Grenfell victims’ £180m lawsuit against US cladding firms and Whirlpool whose fridge is accused of turning tower block into ‘flaming coffin’ that killed 72 will be ‘one of largest cases in history’
- A 400-page long wrongful death lawsuit has been filed to represent 200 people
- Cladding company Arconic supplied cladding on the outside of the tower block
- Insulation company Celotex provided insulation used in the cladding system
- Whirlpool produced the fridge freezer where the fire is believed to have started
The survivors and the bereaved families of those killed in the Grenfell Tower have launched ‘one of the largest product liability cases in history’, against US cladding firms and Whirlpool.
A wrongful death lawsuit, which is over 400 pages long has been filed in the U.S, according to lawyers representing 200 people, and states the building became a ‘flaming coffin’, when the fire took hold.
A 143-count wrongful death and products liability complaint, names three companies which are all based in the U.S, including cladding company Arconic, insulation company Celotex and white goods maker Whirlpool – whose fridge allegedly started the blaze.
Lawyers for two US law firms said they have requested a jury trial in Philadelphia, seeking ‘undetermined compensation, including punitive damages’.
Attorney Jeffrey Goodman gestures toward a placard showing images of victims of the Grenfel fire as he speaks with members of the media during a news conference in Philadelphia
The graphic above shows the damage caused by the fire and those who were on each floor during the blaze
Those involved in the legal action – taken on behalf of 69 of the 72 who died and 177 of those injured – have said the three companies must be held to account over the deadly blaze.
Robert Mongeluzzi, from the law firm Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky (SMBB), said he had been honoured and humbled to represent the clients.
‘We seek to hold these American companies accountable on their home turf to send a message that conduct like this will not be tolerated anywhere in the world.’
Friday marks the two-year anniversary of the fire which killed 72 people.
At a press conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday Jeffrey Goodman, of SMBB, said: ‘Today we announce the filing of one of the largest product liability cases in history.’
The lawsuit, which runs to more than 400 pages, states that the tower became a ‘flaming coffin’ when the fire took hold.
Lawyers, who said it would be up to a jury to decide the amount awarded in damages if the action is successful, said it could be two-and-a-half years before the case comes to trial.
Marcio Gomes escaped the burning tower with his wife and two daughters, but the couple’s son Logan Gomes was later stillborn in hospital.
Of the lawsuit, Mr Gomes said: ‘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.
‘We will never forget. We will not let them down. We will see justice for all at Grenfell.’
Nicholas Burton’s 74-year-old wife Maria del Pilar Burton, survived the fire but died six months later in palliative care, and came to be considered the 72nd victim of the blaze.
Nicholas Burton (pictured above) said the lawsuit was about holding the companies accountable for their products
Mr Burton said: ‘This lawsuit is about holding them accountable, and the most effective way to do that is by suing them where they are based – in the United States.
‘This is a wake-up call for all major corporations who behave as if they are above the law and refuse to face up to the damage they cause or change their ways, even after horrific disasters like the Grenfell Tower fire.’
A spokesman for Arconic said: ‘Arconic has no comment on any potential litigation. We continue to support the Public Inquiry and the investigations by the authorities.’
A spokesman for Celotex said: ‘The company is considering its position in relation to this action.’
They added that the firm ‘remains committed to providing all relevant information to the Inquiry to assist it in its work’.
A spokeswoman for Whirlpool said: ‘While the inquiry is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.
‘Separately, we would like to reassure owners of these products that they are safe and they can continue to use them as normal.’
Deborah Coles, executive director of the charity Inquest, said: ‘Families and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have been loud and clear: they want to ensure no-one else should have to go through something like this ever again.
‘This legal action aims to achieve corporate accountability and safer practices which will benefit us all.’
Government is set to recall half a million of Whirlpool tumble dryers in ‘unprecedented’ move as the company is accused of not being straight with customers over fire safety
By Richard Spillett
The Government is set to step in an order a recall of half a million Whirlpool tumble dryers amid claims the company is not being straight with customers over fire safety risks.
Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said the company has been informed of the Government’s intention to serve such a notice, labelling the move ‘unprecedented’.
Her remarks came after Conservative former minister Andrew Griffiths raised ‘great concern’ over Whirlpool’s ‘straightness’ and whether or not people have unsafe products in their homes.
It emerged earlier this year that more than five million machines had a design fault that has caused at least 750 household fires since 2004, many driving families out of their homes.
A picture of Jenny Spur’s tumble drier, after it caught fire at her home in Hampshire – forcing her to flee with her young children
Jenny Spurr, pictured right with her children Freddie and Amber, was forced to flee her home after her tumble drier caught fire. Rebecca Robinson, left, also spoke out against a gagging order
Victims included Jenny Spurr, who was forced to flee her home with her young children in Hampshire after her tumble dryer caught fire.
The company had agreed to pay her more than £11,000 only after she signed a document agreeing not to discuss the fire with anyone, including broadcasters and social media.
‘It felt 100 per cent they were trying to keep us quiet, it’s disgusting,’ said Miss Spurr. ‘How can you not speak about something like that after what you’ve been through?’
Despite her misgivings, she said she felt she had to sign the non-disclosure agreement because she could not afford to lose the settlement.
Miss Spurr said: ‘If the blaze had been going five minutes longer it would have been a different story’. Pictured above is where the fire took place
Miss Spurr’s dryer was modified two years before her fire broke out.
But in September 2018, just after returning from the school run, she noticed a burning smell in the house while the machine was on in the garage attached to her kitchen.
She was at home with Freddie, two, Louis, 14, and her then eight-month-old daughter Amber, who was napping in her cot. They all managed to escape.
‘It was very scary. Smoke was seeping out the side of the garage door,’ she said.
Smoke billowed out and an electrical burning smell filled Mrs Robinsons’ utility room during the blaze in October
‘Luckily, everyone was OK, but the fire crew said if the blaze had been going five minutes longer it would have been a different story.’
This is while Rebecca Robinson from Devon, also spoke out against a gagging order after her tumble dryer caught fire a year after the products had been deemed as safe.
Smoke billowed out and an electrical burning smell filled her utility room during the blaze in October. Mrs Robinson, 32, a school communications manager, said the Hotpoint engineer who later came told her: ‘It shouldn’t happen like that on a modified one.’
More than 750 fires have been caused by machines sold by Whirlpool. Now the government could step in and recall certain models
But when he phoned his head office from her home to report it the firm kept trying to pass the blame on to Mrs Robinson, implying that she had not kept the dryer clean.
They also warned her she might lose her dryer if she didn’t agree to have a ‘fix on the fix’ rather than replacement machine – which would also mean the engineer would not have to write an official incident report on the fire. But she refused, preferring to risk having no dryer than one that might burn her house down.
The Hotpoint engineer’s report, dated October 30 2018, described the cause as ‘lint build-ups on the heater element and burn signs on the rear panel’ – the exact thing that Whirpool’s modification was designed to stop.
In April, the Office for Product Safety and Standards published a report which told Whirlpool to improve its risk management and communication with customers regarding repairs to tumble dryers to prevent fires.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Griffiths said: ‘The Office for Product Safety and Standards undertook a thorough review into the modification of Whirlpool tumble dryers, yet there still remains great concern not only about the straightness of Whirlpool, but whether people have unsafe products in their homes.
‘Can the minister update us on what’s happening in relation to Whirlpool?’
Ms Tolhurst replied: ‘Consumer safety is a Government priority.
‘I want to assure (Mr Griffiths) that we have kept Whirlpool’s actions under review and I can tell the House we have informed Whirlpool of our intention to serve a recall notice as a next step of the regulatory process. This is unprecedented action.’
Later, shadow business minister Gill Furniss said the OPSS had been ‘weak’ in the handling of its investigation into Whirlpool.
During a debate on changing the law to enhance consumer protections, Ms Furniss said: ‘Consumer groups led by Which? were incensed by what they called ‘fundamentally flawed investigation that appears to favour business interests over people’s safety’.
‘How does the minister suggest we have confidence in the OPSS if its first-ever investigation has been so widely criticised for its failure to properly tackle the issues at hand?’
Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst revealed the move in Parliament today
Responding for the Government, Ms Tolhurst told MPs: ‘I did inform the House that the Government has notified Whirlpool of their intention to issue a recall notice which is part of the regulatory process.
‘So I have to say whilst I have much respect for the honourable lady I have to totally disagree with the characterisation of the Government’s view in taking forward the concerns about Whirlpool and the role of the Office of Product Safety and Standards in that process.’
David Chaplin, from Which?, said: ‘For years we’ve been raising serious concerns about Whirlpool’s fire-risk tumble dryers as well as the cynical tactics – such as the reported use of non-disclosure agreements – that the company has used to put its corporate reputation ahead of public safety.
‘People’s lives have been put at risk for far too long, so it’s a hugely significant step that these machines are set to be recalled. But there will be serious questions if this recall only addresses the 500,000 unmodified machines that Whirlpool has already struggled to locate.
‘The Government must urgently explain what it is going to do about the millions of modified machines still in people’s homes, following serious concerns that have been raised by people who have experienced fires, smoke and burning despite the so-called fix.’
A Whirlpool Corporation spokeswoman said in a statement: ‘Safety is our number one priority and we remain committed to resolving any affected tumble dryers that have not yet been modified.
‘To this end, we are in ongoing discussions with the Office for Product Safety and Standards to agree additional measures we have proposed to reach consumers who have not yet engaged with this safety programme.
‘We have co-operated with OPSS throughout its recent review of the programme and welcome its findings that consumers whose tumble dryers have been modified can continue to use them safely.
‘The crucial message to anyone who still owns an affected dryer and has not already had it modified by Whirlpool is to contact us immediately on 0800 151 0905.
‘In the meantime, anyone with an affected dryer that has not been modified should unplug it and not use it until the modification has been completed.’
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