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Construction Defect Class Action Lawsuit Filed Alleging a National Cover-up of Pipe Defects in Condo Fire Sprinkler Systems

December 8, 2015
Colson Hicks Eidson

High Rise Buildings Developed Between 2004 and 2009 Primarily at Risk

CORAL GABLES, FL. (December 4, 2015) — Attorney Patrick S. Montoya, partner at Colson Hicks Eidson, and Stuart Sobel partner at Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De la Torre, Mars & Sobel, along with Of Counsel Alton C. Hale, Jr., have filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Miami on behalf of two Miami condominium associations concerning defective fire sprinkler systems and a national cover up over a significant life safety issue in multi-unit condominiums in Florida and across the country.

Montoya, Hale and Sobel believe that the problem is nationwide and that monetary damages arising from the claims will exceed one billion dollars. The 56-count lawsuit filed against a dozen manufacturers, suppliers and distributors seeks compensatory, incidental and consequential damages.

According to the Complaint, fire sprinkler systems containing CPVC (Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride) pipes are incompatible with an array of basic construction products and unsuitable for use in fire sprinkler systems. The resin used in the CPVC pipe breaks down when exposed to common construction materials like antimicrobial or anticorrosion chemicals, pesticides, termaticides, joint compounds, cutting oils, fire retardation materials and other products. The metal pipes that are joined to the CPVC pipes typically contain these antimicrobials and anticorrosion chemicals.

The corrosion and breakdown of the pipes causes leaks, cracks and blow-outs in CPVC sprinkler systems, depressurizing and rendering the systems unavailable for fire suppression, giving rise to the potential for loss of life, injuries and property damage.

Buildings that were constructed between 2005-2009 are primarily at risk, particularly if they used a hybrid system of CPVC and metal pipes containing the antimicrobial/corrosion chemicals.

The Miami condo towers effected are the Wind Condominium at 350 S. Miami Ave., a 41-story, 489 unit building constructed in 2008; and Latitude on the River at 185 Southwest 7th St., a 44-story, 454-unit project completed in 2011. The Wind Condominium Association and Latitude on the River Condominium Association are plaintiffs in the suit.

“The defective fire sprinkler systems found in many condominium buildings used incompatible materials in the fire sprinkler pipes that resulted or will result in leaking,” said Montoya. “Using CPVC pipe for the fire sprinkler systems without testing if it was compatible with commonly used construction products in condominium buildings is reckless and tantamount to saying that it is safe to fly a plane using new/untested parts and without undertaking a pre-flight safety check.”

“Each condominium building may have to spend between in excess of $50 million to repair their systems. And many homeowners will have to find alternative living arrangements while their condominiums are being repaired,” added Montoya. “This mammoth problem exists nationwide, but is heavily concentrated in Florida.”

The named defendants are Allied Tube & Conduit Corp., Tyco International PLC, Tyco Fire Products LP, all of Delaware; Lubrizol Advanced Materials of Ohio, The Viking Corp. of Michigan, Victaulic Company of New Jersey, Georg Fischel Harvel of Pennsylvania, Nibco Inc. of Indiana, Spears Manufacturing Co. of California, Atkore International Inc. of Delaware, HD Supply Watermarks Group of Delaware and HD Supply Watermarks Ltd. Of Florida.

The suit additionally alleges a “… massive cover-up over a significant life safety issue in multi-unit condominiums in Florida and across the country. The most egregious part of this case is that some or all of the defendants had knowledge of the defects since 2007 from their own testing, yet deliberately did not disclose it to the class representatives or class members leading to potential loss of lives, injury and property damages,” the suit alleges.

One of the defendants, Lubrizol of Wickcliffe, Ohio, markets and distributes what it touts as an industry leading, non-metallic fire sprinkler system trademarked as “BlazeMaster.” The system uses CPVC pipes, which gained traction for use in residential projects in the 1980s, according to company literature.

The suit alleges that on a number of occasions between 2007 and 2008, a Lubrizol testing service engineer received samples of damaged pipes from condominiums around the country. Initially the engineer warned company marketing officials of deficiencies caused to the pipes after they were exposed to incompatible construction materials, or to pipes made by defendant Allied Tube and Conduit. But marketing representatives, who were attending a fire safety convention, balked at disclosing the defects. Subsequent failed tests on pipes received from other condo projects in the U.S. also went undisclosed to the construction industry, according to the complaint.

“The question is not whether the CPVC pipe used in combination with the metal pipes will fail; the question is when it will fail,” said Montoya. “This can happen at the very worse time – during a fire when the sprinkler system must operate. Needless to say, this is an important fire safety and public safety matter that must be addressed immediately.”

“With this suit, we are striving to ensure that buildings comply with the building code by having properly functioning fire sprinklers at all times,” said Steven M. Siegfried, shareholder at Siegfried Rivera.

About Colson Hicks Eidson

The law firm of Colson Hicks Eidson is a trial firm with more than 40 years of experience handling local, national and international litigation.

Patrick S. Montoya is a firm partner whose practice includes construction law, products liability, class actions and toxic torts. He was counsel on a million dollar trial verdict for a group of hospital-based pathologists who sought damages from Health Maintenance Organizations for not paying their fees. He has achieved multi-million dollar trial verdicts as part of a trial team for clients as diverse as the widow and family of a slain police officer, and homeowners who had defective Chinese drywall in their homes.

About Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel

The law firm of Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel is a boutique law firm that has extensive experience in all aspects of construction law, condominium association matters, homeowners and community association law, real estate and corporate law.

Steve Siegfried is a shareholder who has practiced Construction Law in Florida since 1976. He consults on all phases of the construction process. He is a Board Certified Trial Attorney, Board Certified in Construction Law, and is certified by the Supreme Court of Florida as a Circuit Court Mediator. He is also a founding Fellow of the American College of Construction Lawyers. He has published numerous books and articles on Construction Law.

Stuart Sobel is a shareholder and trial attorney who has tried and arbitrated cases throughout the U.S. since 1978. He is a Florida Bar Board Certified Construction Lawyer and is also certified as Circuit Civil Mediator by the Florida Supreme Court and as a civil trial attorney by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is a Fellow of the American College of Construction Lawyers.

Alton C. Hale Jr. is of counsel to the Siegfried, Rivera, firm. He is a former state prosecutor in Florida’s Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, which covers the Treasure Coast. Prior to joining the firm in 2011, he focused on civil litigation on behalf of companies and individuals with a law firm based in Stuart. Over 13 years, he secured total recoveries in excess of $80 million for individuals and businesses. He continues to litigate cases involving first party insurance claims, business litigation and construction litigation in addition to catastrophic injury and wrongful death.