ELLENVILLE, NY – Nearly three years to the day after a fire leveled 613 Automotive on Main Street during production of a miniseries at the dealership, HBO, actor and producer Mark A. Ruffalo and the 613 owner Levi Hecht are facing allegations of negligence, “gratuitous dishonesty” and “criminal indifference”.
A lawsuit was filed May 7 in the Ulster County Supreme Court by Jessica Rios Rodriguez and Daniel Perez on behalf of their child Danieshalis Perez Rios of 188 South Main St., Ellenville, Pablo Ferrada Arias individually and as as a parent of Sofia Ferrada Nieves, a minor. ; and John and Jane Doe, identified as “fictitious individuals, individually and as the natural parents and guardians of Baby Doe, a currently unknown minor, under the age of 18, and XYZ Corporation, a fictitious, currently known or unknown entity who have a claim against the accused”.
The defendants are Home Box Office (HBO), Ruffalo, Hecht, Jeffrey Weingarten (as a member, partner or director of 613 Automotive) and “John and Jane Does 1 to 100, John Doe Corporations 1 to 10, and others John Doe entities 1 through 10, whose real names are unknown.
A representative of Lonstein Law of Ellenville, the law firm representing the plaintiffs; Karen Jones, spokesperson for HBO; and Ruffalo could not be reached for comment.
The May 9, 2019 fire was ruled accidental, Ellenville Police Chief Philip Mattracion said at the time, citing a preliminary ruling by fire investigators. He said the Ulster County Fire Investigation Division determined the fire was caused by “an unspecified electrical event”.
The dealership, owned by Hecht, was being used as a set and staging area for the HBO miniseries “I Know It’s Real” when it caught fire and burned to the ground.
At the time, Ellenville Mayor Jeff Kaplan, an attorney who also represents Hecht according to the plaintiffs, said HBO equipment left at the site “set off a spark,” which ignited flammable materials on the plateau.
The 10,000 square foot dealership building was a total loss and three nearby homes were damaged by fire and boarded up.
After the fire, authorities said the families living in those homes had been relocated.
The lawsuit, however, states that “despite HBO defendants’ assurances to the contrary, no repairs, repairs, lodging, relocation, health screening and monitoring were provided to the plaintiffs” who “cannot afford housing alternative or replacement and were forced to reside in these damaged premises despite their best efforts to seek assistance in mitigating their injuries and damage.The suit describes the homes as “manufactured”.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim that during production “HBO defendants began altering the premises of 613 and surrounding properties and brought to the scene tractor-trailers, vintage automobiles, generators, equipment power generation, batteries, fuels, chemicals and other toxic, flammable and regulated substances to support film production.
It claims that all defendants “knowingly, intentionally, negligently, and with complete disregard for the well-being and safety of plaintiffs, failed to obtain government approvals, clearances, permits, and provide notices to tenants, including the plaintiffs” living next to the dealership.
Plaintiffs claim in the lawsuit that among the hazardous chemicals stored at the site were “asbestos, lead, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, selenium, silver, chloroform , copper, zinc, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, acetone, butanol, carbon disulphide and benzine”, as well as other hazardous chemicals and “vapours, soot, gases, leachates, fluids and radiation, PVC, formaldehyde, hydrogen chloride, dioxin, organic materials such as molds, fungi, waterborne and airborne pathogens. ”
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs who still reside next to the site were and still are exposed to these chemicals. As a result of this alleged exposure, they claim to have “been injured and suffered and … will suffer serious health, mental and emotional problems”.
No medical documentation is included in the 70-page document.
He further claims that the plaintiffs, due to their celebrity status, were granted certain privileges and allowed to circumvent local laws and regulations. Ruffalo’s actions, according to the lawsuit, “were the height of boldness, hypocrisy, based on his long and storied history of environmental activism, online, on social media and in other posts and appearances. which highlighted the dangers to humans of toxins and pollution”.
The lawsuit further alleges that Ruffalo made a $1,500 contribution to then-state Senator Jen Metzger’s state senate campaign while speaking with the plaintiffs and after having “witnessed their dangerous living situation personally” and allegedly assured them that she would “obtain government assistance.
Shortly thereafter, on September 24, 2020, the lawsuit states that Ruffalo hosted an online fundraiser for Metzger, after which the plaintiffs claim to have “never heard of Senator Metzger, or any local government agency, state or federal. Metzger lost his re-election bid in November 2020 and did not represent Ellenville again after January 2021.
For defendant’s “despicable conduct”, the lawsuit asks the court to award plaintiffs “an amount reasonably related to plaintiffs’ actual damages and defendants’ financial condition, including, but not limited to, a continuing percentage past, present and future gross revenues generated”. of the HBO film “This Much I Know Is True” large enough to be an example to others and to deter defendants and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future.
The lawsuit further asks the court to establish a “supervised and administered trust fund and medical, emotional and psychological monitoring regime to compensate plaintiffs, primarily child plaintiffs…and to employ physicians, counselors, psychologists and other health care providers to examine, treat and care for their injuries. »
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to correct the name of the law firm representing the various parties. Lonstein Law of Ellenville is the law firm representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Home Box Office (HBO), Mark Ruffalo, 613 Automotive, Levi Hecht and Jeffrey Weingarten. The law firm representing the plaintiffs got it wrong in an earlier version of this story. Kalter, Kaplan, Zeiger & Forman have previously represented 613 Automotive in this case.