RICHMOND, Ind. – Documents filed Monday from a Richmond recycling company detail a new lawsuit against the city claiming officials knew about the dangers of the building in 2021 when they acquired it from the previous owners.
The lawsuit also alleges that the city didn’t evict the company or shut down operations before the April industrial fire, meaning they’re ultimately responsible for the incident.
The fire broke out at an industrial site at NW F Street in Richmond on April 11. it burned for five days as firefighters actively battled the blaze as tons of discarded plastics, destined for recycling burned.
Over two thousand neighbors were pulled from their homes for days as many reported headaches, sore throats, dizziness, skin rashes and chest pain.
Media partners reported that the burned facility was a former lawn mower manufacturer that had been closed for years and was being used for storage.
Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said the facility was used for recycling, storing plastic and other materials.
“The fire was fully involved,” Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown said during the fire investigation. “It was fully loaded with unknown types of plastics. Filled wall to wall.”
Brown added that the facility is “massive” and has an area of about 175,000 square feet. He also said that this fire may have been preventable.
The owner of the Richmond plastics recycling business hadn’t initially made any public comment or answered questions from media. A 2019 recording released by the city attorney showed owner Seth Smith speaking to the city’s “Unsafe Buildings Commission.”
In that recording, Smith admitted that there was a “lot of work to be done there.”
The commission had given Smith 90 days to eliminate fire and other safety hazards on the property, however in the three and a half years between the meeting and the fire, it was unclear how much plastic had been removed.
Court documents filed Monday alleged the building where the fire happened was owned by the City of Richmond and not Cornerstone Trading Group, LLC or Seth Smith. They add that the company did not “cause or contribute the release of any hazardous substances” and so they weren’t liable for the incident.
The company said that the fire was started by a “mystery arsonist” and couldn’t have been due to electrical causes since the electricity was previously shut off.
The pleading filed on Monday names the City of Richmond as a co-defendant and is seeking the testimony of Mayor Snow and the city’s attorney.
Since damage costs were paid by other sources Cornerstone adds, as the defendant, they shouldn’t have to reimburse the City of Richmond.
To date, federal and state authorities continue monitoring the cleanup of the site and review testing for indications of hazardous debris.
FOX59 has sought comment from both Cornerstone and the City of Richmond on the filings and hasn’t heard back as of Wednesday evening.