US Companies to Face Lawsuit Over UK Grenfell Tower Inferno

This is a June 15, 2017, file photo of the scorched facade of the Grenfell Tower in London after a massive fire raced through the 24-story high-rise apartment building in west London. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein/File)

(CN) – Lawyers and judges in Philadelphia, and not just those in London, will have a say over whether American companies can face liability for an inferno at an apartment tower in London that killed 72 people and injured about 70 others in 2017.

The BBC reported Monday that dozens of survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire and victims’ relatives will file a lawsuit this week in Philadelphia against three American companies, including appliance giant Whirlpool and Pennsylvania-based Arconic, which specializes in metal products. Arconic, a publicly traded company and a spin-off of aluminum giant Alcoa, is the focus of attention.

The company sold the aluminum cladding placed on the outside of the 24-story apartment block during a $11 million refurbishment project in 2016.

The building was looked after by the Kensington and Chelsea Council, a wealthy area of West London.

Local officials are accused of negligence by residents of the Grenfell Tower, which is located in North Kensington. Many of the victims were minorities and foreigners.

Fire investigators believe the fire’s sudden, and unexpected, ferocity was caused largely by the aluminum panels affixed to the building as part of the renovation work.

Since the fire, Arconic has pulled the sale of the particular panels used on the Grenfell Tower worldwide. The company brands its building panels as protection against harsh weather, such as hurricanes, and as energy-savers by helping insulate structures.

Friday marks the two-year anniversary of the June 14 fire, which the BBC called one of Great Britain’s worst modern disasters. The disaster shocked the nation and prompted an in-depth – and ongoing – government review. There are criminal probes too, though no charges have been filed.

The disaster, and its handling, have seriously damaged public trust and given rise to accusations of racism, bias and government incompetence. It has also sparked calls for more public spending, undermining now-former Prime Minister Theresa May and her Tory government’s push to cut public spending.

The fire started in the early morning of June 14 in an apartment on the fourth floor. Investigators have linked the fire to a Whirlpool refrigerator-freezer. Firefighters struggled to contain the inferno for over 24 hours.

In the aftermath, investigators linked the fire’s ferocity to a $11 million refurbishment job in 2016 that included placing the aluminum cladding on the building’s exterior. British authorities are under pressure to remove similar cladding encasing many other buildings.

In a statement on Monday, Whirlpool said the fridge was safe and it denied that its product had caused the fire. Government investigators have deemed the Whirlpool model involved in the Grenfell Tower fire safe.

The lawsuit’s bigger target is Arconic, the supplier of the aluminum cladding. On Monday, the company declined to comment on potential litigation.

A third company, Celotex, is also being sued because it supplied insulation that caught fire. It could not be immediately reached for comment.

The BBC said the lawsuit in Philadelphia will make claims under product liability law. In its reporting, the network cited unnamed sources but reported two large U.S. law firms are involved in the case.

Arconic and Celotex have corporate headquarters in Philadelphia.

The BBC reported some residents of the Grenfell Tower are opposed to filing this lawsuit in America, with one resident saying it could become a distraction.

A civil case seeking damages in the United States must be filed within two years due to the statute of limitations.

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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