PHILADELPHIA—A wrongful death and product liability lawsuit was filed June 11 against three U.S. manufacturers whose products allegedly ignited and fueled a London high-rise fire that killed 72 and injured more than 100 people two years ago.
The 23-story Grenfell Tower burned out of control in a matter of minutes on June 14, 2017, after a refrigerator caught fire in a fourth-floor flat and the flames spread to the outside of the building, which recently had been refurbished with flammable insulation and cladding.
The 420-plus page lawsuit filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas seeks undetermined compensatory and punitive damages from Pittsburgh-based Arconic Inc., which produced the cladding; Malvern, Pa.-based Saint-Gobain Corp. and/or Celotex Corp., which produced the insulation; and Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp., which produced the Hotpoint-brand refrigerator.
The plaintiffs include families of 69 people who died in the fire as well as 177 of the injured.
"Although the devastation may have occurred abroad, the decisions that led to it took place here in America," Jeffrey Goodman, a lawyer for one of two firms representing victims, said at a news conference in Philadelphia.
The appliance with an allegedly faulty wire connector was manufactured by a Whirlpool subsidiary, according to Goodman. He said, "flammable plastic components in the back of the refrigerator" ignited and started the blaze.
"That fire spread to the exterior of the building and that is when it truly became uncontrollable," Goodman said. "Once the fire reached the insulation that was manufactured by Celotex and the cladding that was manufactured by Arconic, it raced uncontrollably throughout the building due to their flammable nature. It turned the Grenfell Tower into a cylinder of fire, which entrapped the victims and killed 72."
The 200-foot-tall high-rise was clad with Reynobond-brand panels, which are made of aluminum and have a polyethylene core, while the insulation was marketed as RS5000. The panels are not allowed on U.S. residential buildings taller than 40 feet and should not have been used in the United Kingdom regardless of local codes and regulations, plaintiffs' attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said at the news conference.
"This is a case about two Pennsylvania corporations that sold and supplied dangerous, defective, deadly and flammable products that they both have now withdrawn from the market," he said.
The Reynobond panels and RS5000 insulation were pulled from the global market within two weeks of the fire.
"The problem with Celotex insulation and Arconic Reyobond PE cladding is they burn like gasoline," Mongeluzzi said. "They didn't retard the flames. They accelerated the flames and that caused this fire to spread, propagate and trap those unfortunate souls in the building with no way out."
The three manufacturers have expressed sympathies for the fire victims and pledged to cooperate with British investigators.
The lead plaintiff, a 26-year-old architect named Gloria Trevisan, ended a phone call with her mother so she wouldn't hear her scream before she died.
Nicholas Burton, another plaintiff whose 72-year-old wife, Maria, died six months after the fire, issued a statement saying the businesses must be held accountable.
"These American companies knew of the dangers with their products, yet elected to supply them anyway and expose us and our loved ones to this fire," Burton said.
Marcio Gomes, another plaintiff, escaped the burning building with his pregnant wife and two daughters, but the baby they were expecting was stillborn. Gomes blames the Celotex for giving off a cyanide gas during the fire.
"The fire took everything from us," Gomes said in a statement. "My wife was seven months pregnant when the smoke and cyanide killed our son before he was born into this world. Nothing can repair our deepest feelings of hurt and heartbreak. It was all completely avoidable."
Goodman said the Arconic cladding and Celotex insulation turned what should have been a controllable blaze into a deadly inferno.
"The cladding and insulation were the fuel that allowed the fire to ravage Grenfell Tower and kill 72 innocent victims," he said. "These men, women and children deserved a safe place to live and these American corporations robbed them of that fundamental right. The families of Grenfell rightly look to the American courts to hold U.S. corporations accountable and to help prevent tragedies like this in the future."
If the case goes to trial, it could take 30-32 months before it is heard by a jury.
The plaintiffs are represented by the law firms of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky PC, which is based in Philadelphia, and DiCello, Levitt, Gutzler L.L.C., which is in Mentor, Ohio.