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Several law firms have banded together to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of two Miami high-rise condo associations, including the Wind Condominiums at 350 S. Miami Ave., concerning defective fire sprinkler systems. Image: Wind Condominiums

Several law firms have banded together to file a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Miami on behalf of two Miami condominium associations concerning defective fire sprinkler systems and an alleged national cover up over a life safety issue in multi-unit condominiums in Florida and across the country.

The attorneys believe that the problem is nationwide and that monetary damages arising from the claims will exceed $1 billion. 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 Polyvinal 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, termiticides, joint compounds, cutting oils, fire retardation materials, and other products. The metal pipes that are joined to the CPVC pipes typically contained 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.

According to the attorneys, buildings that were constructed from 2004 – ‘09 are primarily at risk, particularly if they used a hybrid system of CPVC and metal pipes containing the antimicrobial/corrosion chemicals.

The Miami condominium associations named as the lead plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit are those of 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 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 attorney Ervin Gonzalez. “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 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 Gonzalez. “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.”

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 Gonzalez. “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.”