WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) – A resident of Winston-Salem who claims she suffered personally because of the recent fire at the Weaver Fertilizer has filed a class action suit against the company, citing negligence, public nuisance and trespassing.
Resident Karen Prudencio is the named plaintiff in the suit against Winston Weaver Co., which is the corporate name of the fertilizer company whose facility at 4440 N. Cherry Street was destroyed by a weeklong blaze that erupted on Jan. 31 and threatened to explode because of volatile chemical compounds stored on the site.
Residents and businesses within one mile of the plant were evacuated, an elementary school was closed and there were concerns about the pollution of nearby waterways because of the fire. No one was reported to have been injured by the fire.
The suit, filed in Forsyth County Superior Court by The Law Office of James Scott Farrin, claims 6,500 people were evacuated from 2,500 homes in the area and that those displaced were affected for about 96 hours.
Weaver officials have not commented on the suit. A court filing includes only one side of the case.
Gary Jackson, lead attorney for Farrin on this case, said in a statement distributed with the lawsuit that the fire “terrified and displaced a community. These folks, as well as the businesses in the affected area, deserve justice. They had to leave their homes for days and find alternative housing; they closed their businesses and lost income; they will have to ensure their properties are free of dangerous chemicals; some have experienced adverse health effects and many fear how the blast may affect their future health.
“This company needs to accept responsibility for the harms it has visited upon its unsuspecting neighbors.”
The suit cites the danger for explosion because 600 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored on the site. That compound is an accelerant that has contributed to explosions that have killed hundreds around the world.
The suit mentions explosions that residents felt when the fire broke out and before evacuation commenced and the threat of toxic chemicals falling from the sky because of the explosions. It also cites further contamination that could have been caused by firefighting, rainwater runoff and the surrounding waterways and ash falling onto the soil.
The suit also describes previous fires at Weaver and that the storage of the volatile chemicals was done so in violation of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act that requires companies to inform the public about potentially hazardous situations. North Carolina agencies have opened an investigation into the fire.
Prudencio is the named defendant because she was evacuated and contracted COVID-19, the suit alleges. She couldn’t stay with family and had an automobile wreck while she was trying to find alternative housing, which forced her to return home on Feb. 2, while the evacuation was underway. The suit says that because of these circumstances she couldn’t return to work on Feb. 9, causing extra expense and lost wages.
Her suit claims negligence on three levels based on the company’s handling of the chemicals, the public nuisance of the evacuation and trespassing based on the particles from the sky falling onto personal property.
Residents affected by the fire have been approved to participate in $1 million in relief funds from the city. Another attorney who lives near the plant also filed suit alleging negligence by the company.
In class action suits, the court must certify there are grounds for a class of defendants – which typically are aggregated by the plaintiffs’ counsel – and that each person has been affected in the same way by the circumstances.