NBR – SALLY LINDSAY, WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 17, 2016
Auckland construction lawyer Adina Thorn has her sights set on another cladding product class action.
She has already launched a $250 million class action against Australian-headquartered James Hardie group of companies for manufacturing and selling defective cladding used in leaky houses and is now eyeing up an aluminium composite used in several high-rise towers that have caught fire.
A New Year’s eve fireworks display unintentionally turned the 160-storey Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai into a spectacular 800m-plus Roman candle.
Closer to home, the cladding was regarded as being behind the rapid spread of a fire which in November 2014 began from an unextinguished cigarette on the sixth-floor balcony of a not-long completed 23-storey apartment block in Melbourne’s Docklands, causing millions of dollars in damages.
Ms Thorn says she is now turning her attention to the manufacturers, installers and designers of the “aluminium composite material” cladding seen as responsible for the rapid spread of the Dubai fire.
The product concerned is an aluminium composite panel which consists of two thin sheets bonded by a non-aluminium core. It is used as a cladding, often in commercial and large apartment buildings and the sandwich panels are sold under a range of trade names.
“The core of the cladding, generally polyethylene, is combustible and the panels can often create a chimney effect that causes fire to rapidly spread.
“Falling panels can then ‘rain down’ causing the fire to spread to lower levels, which is extremely dangerous when buildings have balconies where combustible furniture and items like LPG bottles are often stored.
“Reports say that the cladding products concerned have not been legal in the UK since the 1980s and their use in the US is generally restricted to low-rise buildings.’ Some people believe that around 70% of the high rise structures there utilise the products.
Ms Thorn says in New Zealand the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said it was looking at the issue some eight months ago but doesn’t seem to have made any announcements since then.
“Clearly there is likely to be a significant problem in this area as the repairs can be very costly. My concern is that lives may be lost before something is done about the issue while building owners may face expensive repairs through no fault of their own.”
“Most of the large claims that my firm now sees have significant fire issues.”