PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Joined by families of the victims, nearly 250 survivors of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London brought a lawsuit Tuesday blaming faulty building materials made in the U.S. for the blaze.
Seventy-two people were killed after a Whirlpool refrigerator on the fourth floor of the 24-story apartment building in west London began leaking and eventually ignited on June 14, 2017.
As alleged in the 416-page product-liability lawsuit filed today in Philadelphia civil court, what had initially been a “controllable blaze” spread rapidly thanks to the use of dangerous and highly flammable cladding and insulation produced by Pennsylvania manufacturers Arconic Inc. and Celotex Corp.
“The highly flammable cladding turned Grenfell Tower into a flaming coffin, entrapping the residents and their guests and sentencing the victims to agonizing and painful deaths by burning and suffocation,” the complaint states.
All but two of the 72 victims are among the 247 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, which was announcing this morning outside the law offices of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett and Bendesky, a personal injury firm in Philly known for collecting huge settlements for victims of preventable – and often fatal – accidents.
The complaint is dated Thursday but was inaccessible for public viewing until today due to a server outage in the Philadelphia courts.
Aided by two attorneys from DiCello Levitt Gutzler, Jeffrey Goodman of Saltz Mongeluzzi emphasized the breadth of the tragedy at the media briefing by providing enlarged photos of the blaze, samples of the faulty cladding, and heartfelt statements from some Grenfell Tower residents who lost loved ones in the inferno.
Among these victims was Marcio Gomes, whose newborn son was delivered stillborn after labor was induced in his wife while she was in a coma from her injuries.
“The fire took everything from us,” Gomes told his attorneys. “My wife was seven months pregnant when the smoke and cyanide killed our son before he was even born into this world. Nothing can repair our deepest feelings of hurt and heartbreak. It was all completely avoidable. It should never have happened. It should never happen again to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
“Corporations must be held to account for each and every person who died or was injured; from our son, the youngest person to lose his life, to the grandparents who died protecting the ones they loved,” the grieving father continued. “We will never forget. We will not let them down. We will see justice for all at Grenfell.”
Noted several times in both the press conference and the lawsuit is the fact that the Grenfell Tower building had been built with external cladding that would have been illegal to use in the United States in such a tall building.
Made from a polymer resin, Arconic’s Reynobond Polyethylene Cladding and other insulation panels of its type are considered combustible enough to be banned in the US for use in residential buildings over 40 feet tall, attorneys say.
Standing over 200 feet high and 24 stories tall – including floor zero, which is how the ground floor is typically numbered in the UK – Grenfell Tower far exceeded this height, according to the complaint.
Now the alleged victims want Arconic to pay up for supplying this product for such a tall building instead of the more expensive but safer fire-resistant cladding.
The strongly worded lawsuit repeatedly takes aim at what it calls the manufacturer’s “corporate greed and desire to cut corners and save money” by supplying the cheaper product to builders when they renovated the apartment complex in 2012.
“Arconic … exploit[ed] the European marked and export[ed] the danger abroad that they couldn’t sell at home,” the complaint alleges. “Through its behavior, Arconic sent the message that foreign lives are worth less than American lives and that it is acceptable to expose people outside the United States to dangers to which people in the United States would not be exposed.”
The plaintiffs also note that the treacherously flammable nature of the cladding was compounded by the use of equally combustible insulation manufactured by Celotex, a corporation with offices in suburban Philadelphia.
In the weeks following the deadly fire, Arconic issued a press release expressing condolences to the victims stating that they were recalling the cladding used in Grenfell Tower. Arconic said it “sold [its] products with the expectation that they would be used in compliance with the various … local building codes and regulations.”
A representative for Arconic reiterated the company’s condolences in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
“We express our deepest sympathies to all those affected by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, and remain committed to supporting the public inquiry and investigation by the authorities in the UK. We will respond to this litigation in court,” the rep said.
A spokesman for Whirlpool similarly expressed condolences to the victims and pledged cooperation with ongoing investigations in the U.K., while also reassuring consumers about its refrigerators.
“We would like to assure owners of these products that they are safe and they can continue to use them as normal,” the rep said over the phone. “Nothing matters more to us than people’s safety. That’s why as soon as we were made aware of this incident, we launched an investigation into the model of fridge-freezer that was in the apartment where the fire began. Two separate investigations…independently found no evidence of any fault with this model and confirmed that it fully complied with all safety requirements.”
Jeffrey Goodman of Saltz Mongeluzzi noted in his morning press conference that no wrongful-death lawsuits related to the fire have been filed in the United Kingdom. There is an ongoing government-led inquiry into the fire but no criminal prosecution, he said, adding that the legal system works differently in the UK.
The UK’s Grenfell Tower Inquiry was indeed established to look into the cause of the fire and present a report to the prime minister, who chose the members of the panel, according to the Tower Inquiry’s website.
In Philadelphia, meanwhile, the victims are seeking punitive damages for 143 counts of product liability and wrongful death. The complaint has been filed and defendants have been served, attorneys said today, and now they wait for the case to go to trial.
Also named as defendants in the suit are Alcoa Inc. and Saint-Gobain Products, which are affiliated corporations with Arconic and Celotex, respectively.