The billowing black smoke from an April 11 plastics fire triggered an evacuation order that forced residents from their homes and closed businesses.

A class-action lawsuit claims residents have experienced physical problems and emotional distress because of the fire at a North West F Street plastics recycling and resale business. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages from owner Seth Smith and Cornerstone Trading Group LLC for thousands of people impacted.

Attorneys Trevor Crossen of the Crossen Law Firm in Carmel and Benjamin D. Felton of Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz in Richmond filed the lawsuit, which has been assigned to Superior Court 1. They requested a jury trial.

Residents Tushawn Craig, who resides on North West First Street, and Marquetta Stokes, who lives on Richmond Avenue, as well as Limitless Pallets LLC, a company operating on North West Second Street, are listed as plaintiffs. According to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, Ronnie Coffey is president of Limitless Pallets, a company formed in February that liquidates pallets of merchandise.

The lawsuit expects more than 2,000 residents and businesses could be eligible to join the class action, and it asks in excess of $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages plus expenses.

READ: Blame for fire’s cause, costs hit property owner

Richmond’s Unsafe Building Commission on July 25, 2019, declared the three-property, 13.8-acre complex unsafe and a fire hazard. Smith challenged the ruling in court, and former Circuit Court Judge David Kolger affirmed the Unsafe Building cleanup orders. 

However, the lawsuit alleges that Smith “failed to take any affirmative steps to remedy the unsafe ultrahazardous conditions that existed” at the complex on 308, 310 and 358 N.W. F St. in “blatant disregard for the safety and welfare” of the listed plaintiffs and others who could join the class action.

That inaction resulted, the lawsuit says, in the April 11 fire that displaced as many as 2,000 residents and closed businesses. In addition to those in the evacuation area, others left their homes in fear, the lawsuit says. Businesses unable to operate lost profits, and with businesses closed, residents lost income because they were unable to work.

The county’s Emergency Management Agency lifted the evacuation order at 4 p.m. April 16, five days after it was implemented. 

According to the lawsuit, residents experienced “great physical, emotional, and psychological pain and suffering” and continue to fear for their health and safety. The fire has also reduced property values, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status because of the potential thousands who could have claims against Smith and Cornerstone and because those claims could be small enough that they would deter individuals from seeking relief independently.

Smith has yet to file a response to the plaintiffs’ claims.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 3 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.