Updated: 5:32 p.m.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed in Philadelphia targets a trio of U.S. manufacturers whose products allegedly played a central role in a deadly highrise fire in west London in 2017. The list of defendants includes two Pennsylvania companies.
Grenfell Tower became an inferno on June 14 of that year after a refrigerator caught fire inside a fourth-floor apartment. In less than 10 minutes, flames reached the exterior of the newly-refurbished building and quickly ripped through the 24-story structure.
The blaze — considered the deadliest tragedy in England’s capital since World War II — killed 72 people and injured 100 more.
The fire also destroyed 151 homes inside and near the tower.
The suit was filed last week, but announced Tuesday. The 143-count complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Whirlpool Corporation, Arconic, Inc., and Celotex Corporation. The suit argues those companies knowingly sold “dangerous, defective, and flammable” products that sparked and accelerated the flames that engulfed Grenfell for hours.
“The cause and origin and deadly spread of this fire were the decisions made by Pennsylvania corporations in Pennsylvania regarding products that they now have withdrawn from the market,” said attorney Robert Mongeluzzi at a news conference at his law firm in Center City Philadelphia.
During renovations, Pittsburgh-based Arconic supplied exterior cladding with a “highly” flammable core, the lawsuit alleges. The product was prohibited in the U.S. for high-rise projects, but not overseas.
Celotex, a Malvern-based company, sells insulation. The material installed throughout Grenfell is also highly flammable and when burned, it emits cyanide gas, which was used as a chemical warfare agent during the two World Wars. Jeffrey Goodman, a partner in Mongeluzzi’s firm, said people in the tower were killed and injured by the poisonous gas.
“They burn like gasoline,” said Mongeluzzi of the two products. “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.”
A Whirlpool subsidiary built the refrigerator police say started the fire.
In a statement, the Michigan-based company said “everyone touched by this
event deserves answers, and it is entirely appropriate that the public inquiry in the UK is entrusted with finding those answers. We are committed to assisting the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in any way we can as it continues to investigate all the potential origins and causes of the fire and how it spread. While the inquiry is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
The statement goes on to say both Whirlpool and the UK’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) found no evidence of a fault in the refrigerator.
There is also an ongoing criminal investigation.
In a statement, Celotex said, “We are continuing to cooperate fully with the Public Inquiry, which will be considering in Phase 2, a large number of complex and inter-related issues concerning the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, including the design and installation of the rainscreen cladding system, of which insulation made by Celotex formed one element. Celotex remains committed to providing all relevant information to the Inquiry to assist it in its work.”
An Arconic spokeswoman said, “We express our deepest sympathies to all those affected by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire and remain committed to supporting the Public Inquiry and investigations by the authorities in the U.K. We will respond to this litigation in court.”
The complaint has 247 plaintiffs — 69 families who lost loved ones in the blaze and 177 survivors who sustained “life-altering” injuries.
Mongeluzzi, who famously represented victims of the 2013 deadly building collapse in Center City Philadelphia during a monthslong civil trial, said the Grenfell case will have “significantly” more witnesses if it reaches the inside of a courtroom.
It could be more than two years before that happens, he said.