Lawyers representing young Italian architects and other victims of 2017 tragedy launch US lawsuit against cladding manufacturer, insulation supplier and appliance-maker
Lawyers representing almost all of the 72 people who died in the the Grenfell Tower fire, and more than 100 victims who survived the tragedy, have filed a US lawsuit seeking compensation from three companies said to have a role in the inferno.
The bid, spearheaded by a leading specialist in supporting victims of corporate wrongdoing, targets the firm responsible for the appliance that caused the fire and two businesses with a key role in producing and supplying the cladding products that aided its spread.
Named as plaintiffs on the court papers are the estates of Italian architects Gloria Trevisan and Marco Gottardi, who were at home at the west London block when fire broke out and rapidly spread almost exactly two years ago, leaving many stranded on the building’s upper storeys. The couple’s flat was on the 23rd floor of the 24-storey building.
Trevisan worked for Fulham Palace-based Peregrine Bryant Architecture & Building Conservation; Gottardi was an architectural assistant at the London office of Anglo-Italian practice CIAO.
The lawsuit was lodged last week at the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. It is seeking “compensatory and punitive damages” from appliance manufacturer Whirlpool Corp; cladding supplier Arconic Inc, headquartered in Pittsburgh; and insulation maker Celotex Corp, a subsidiary of the French multinational Saint-Gobain.
“Almost two years of investigation have revealed the unambiguous truth that the tragedy which took the lives of 72 innocent victims and ruined hundreds more was inflicted upon the population of Grenfell by United States corporations and their defiance of safety,” it states.
The civil action demands redress from Whirlpool on the basis that one of its fridge-freezers malfunctioned, causing its plastic backing to ignite – starting the wider blaze in the process.
Arconic is targeted as the supplier of Reynobond PE, the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower as part of its refurbishment, a product that played a key role in the rapid spread of fire at the block.
The suit states: “Due to its highly flammable nature, Reynobond PE cannot be sold or fit for high-rise buildings in the United States and Arconic therefore determined to exploit the European market and export the danger abroad that they couldn’t sell at home.”
The document says that 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 wold not be exposed”.
It says the firm’s “corporate greed and desire to cut corners and save money” culminated in the “conscious, knowing and reckless decision” to supply Reynobond PE cladding for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, instead of the more expensive Reynobond Fire Resistant cladding, Reynobond FR.
Arconic supplied the product “despite knowing that the Reynobond PE cladding was unfit for the tower”, the papers allege.
The lawsuit states that Celotex designed and manufactured the insulation for the cladding used on Grenfell Tower and “knowingly sold and supplied it to the tower” despite being aware it was “highly combustible and was not fit of sustainable for use in external cladding for buildings”.
It added: “Worse, Celotex fraudulently manipulated test results to hide the flammable nature of their insulation from consumers.”
Jeffrey P Goodman, partner at law firm Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky said the case marked one of the highest number of individual wrongful death and personal injury claims ever brought in a single product liability lawsuit stemming from one incident.
“This case is filed in America to hold the American corporations responsible for the devastation and tragedy that they caused,” he told a press conference on Tuesday.
Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky describes Goodman as a specialist in litigating complex cases against product manufacturers, construction companies and other businesses “that harm customers”.
The legal team pursuing the complaint also includes Ohio firm DeCello Levitt.
The court papers do not indicate a level of damages being sought.
Whirlpool and Arconic said they were cooperating with investigations by authorities into the tragedy and in statements expressed their “deepest sympathy” to the fire’s victims.
A statement from Celotex said the business was “continuing to co-operate fully” with the public inquiry into the tragedy, which is due to commence its phase-two hearings on the tower’s refurbishment next year.
“As we approach the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, Celotex re-affirms our deepest sympathies to everyone affected by the fire,” it said.
“Celotex is a UK business and the Celotex insulation used at Grenfell Tower was manufactured and sold in the United Kingdom.”
This story was updated at 14:23 on 13 June 2019 to include a new comment from Celotex