A mural now graces the outside of  200 Wellesley St. E.  It's symbolic of a new beginning at the building, as years after a huge fire, residents are getting their cheques from a class action lawsuit.

200 Wellesley St. fire: 600 tenants to share in $4.85M compensation

More than 600 tenants, many with physical and mental health conditions, will share $4.85 million in compensation for lost property and injuries suffered after a six-alarm fire in a high-rise at 200 Wellesley St. E. three years ago.

“It was just inescapable that there was very serious amounts of damages to be confronted here,” lawyer Brian Shell, who represented the plaintiffs, said Sunday.

“It’s a very fair outcome especially with regard to the risks that would have been present with a trial.”

A class-action lawsuit launched against Toronto Community Housing Corp. and Greenwin Property Management Inc., the building’s former operator, was settled in June, but the details are only coming to light now in a “plan of distribution” approved by Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell.

“The proposed plan … is all of fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of the class,” Perell wrote in his decision released Friday.

Among the class members are 130 children. Eighty-one will receive cheques for less than $2,000. One child will receive more than $10,000. The majority of the recipients, 532, were awarded less than $20,000, including 241 due between $1,000 and $1,999.

“It means they didn’t have property loss or suffer injuries,” Shell said.

The fire, which caused more than $1 million in damage, broke out Sept. 24, 2010, in a 24th floor unit, after a discarded cigarette landed on a balcony filled with an “excessive amount of combustible materials,” according to the Office of the Fire Marshal.

The fire marshal’s report noted Stephen Vassilev, the resident in the unit where the fire started and whom neighbours and investigators identified as a hoarder, complained to TCHC in 2009 about someone in the unit above “throwing broken bottle and cigarette butts on his balcony.”

Some of the 1,200 residents, who were displaced by the fire for weeks or months, accepted the TCHC’s initial compensation offer after agreeing not to join the lawsuit or take further legal action.

Seven of the class members were awarded between $40,000 and $69,999. Two will receive between $70,000 and $76,500.

Those people “generally suffered significant property loss, and often significant personal injury,” Shell said.

This case — the fastest concluded class action proceeding in the province’s history — is what the statute was about when it was enacted 20 years ago, he said.

“It was designed to bring access to justice to people who otherwise would not be able to get any,” Shell said. “It was not designed for lawyers to make huge amounts of money and for many thousands of people to recover $40.”

Class members will begin receiving cheques next week. Any money not collected by April will be given to charities.

Lead plaintiff Jo Ann Blair could not be reached for comment, but she “is very happy with the result,” Shell said. “She was trapped on her balcony for six hours and believed she was going to die. The miracle of this fire is that nobody was killed.”

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