A federal judge has dismissed a wrongful death and product liability lawsuit that claimed faulty building materials, some made by U.S. manufacturers, caused the Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 72 people.
U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson ruled Sept. 16 to dismiss the U.S. suit, saying it would be more efficient to try the case in the United Kingdom because officials there have investigated the deadly fire and that is where witnesses and potential co-defendants are.
The June 14, 2017, fire started in a fourth-floor apartment refrigerator. The flames burned through a window frame into the space between the building's insulation and the rain screen.
The flames then raced up the side of the 24-story building and turned it into a "flaming coffin," according to the lawsuit filed in June 2019 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
The lawsuit initially sought compensatory and punitive damages from Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp., which produced the Hotpoint-brand refrigerator; Pittsburgh-based Arconic Inc., which produced the cladding; and Malvern, Pa.-based Saint-Gobain Corp. as the producer of the insulation.
However, Saint-Gobain was dropped from the lawsuit in January after the plaintiffs acknowledged that its sister company, Coventry, England-based Celotex Ltd., manufactured and supplied the insulation and has "no agency relationship" in terms of daily control with Saint-Gobain, which is a holding company.
The plaintiffs' lawyer, Robert Mongeluzzi, who filed the suit, told the Associated Press that his clients are considering their options, including an appeal of the ruling.
The plaintiffs include families of 69 people who died in the fire as well as 177 of the injured. They contend that although the deadly blaze happened in London, the decisions that led to it took place in the U.S.
The 220-foot-tall high-rise was clad with Reynobond-brand panels, which are made of aluminum and have a polyethylene core, and it was insulated with a Celotex material marketed as RS5000. Both products were pulled from the global market within two weeks of the fire.
The panels are not allowed on U.S. residential buildings taller than 40 feet and should not have been used in the U.K., regardless of local codes and regulations, Mongeluzzi has said.
The building materials fueled a fire that raced up 19 floors within 12 minutes of reaching the facade, the judge noted in his 101-page opinion, which points to the findings in a 787-page report of Phase 1 of the U.K. public inquiry. Phase 2 of the inquiry, which is focused on the decisions that led to the installation of highly combustible cladding, is underway.
A criminal investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service also continues.
"At its core, this case is about a London residential fire that tragically resulted in the death of 72 U.K. residents and substantial injuries to hundreds more," the judge said in his opinion. "This court has great sympathy for the victims and survivors of the fire, as well as their family and friends. The Grenfell Tower fire has been, and continues to be, the subject of an extensive inquiry conducted by the U.K. government and may result in criminal prosecutions.
"Defendants Arconic and Whirlpool, which are American companies whose products allegedly contributed to the severity of the fire, are two of many potentially responsible actors. Defendants have demonstrated that they would be genuinely inconvenienced by having to defend against plaintiffs' claims in Pennsylvania and have shown that litigating in the U.K. is significantly more preferable."