Alucobond supplier Halifax Vogel and Vitrabond supplier Fairview Architectural are being taken to court in a litigation business funded class action lawsuit, centered on the fire prevention qualities, or not, of historic aluminium composite (ACM) cladding, a core substrate in the signage industry.
The local sign and display industry is caught up in the cladding crisis thanks to a new Building Construction Code introduced late last year which impacted on aluminium composite material (ACM), commonly used for exterior signage, which has a polyethylene core sandwiched between aluminium panels.
If the case against HVG, and a separate one against number two supplier Fairview Architecural, are successful they could lead to other claims. It is proving to be a major issue in the signage industry.
As councils around the country grapple with the new Building Code, the signage industry is caught in the middle of what is a confusing situation, with many sign operators deeply concerned that they too could be taken to court by the no-win no-fee law operations, if their signage is located on a building and is perceived to be uncertified.
There are many ACM products used in the sign industry that are certified as fire retardant, but they are generally the higher priced product from Europe, while the lower cost product manufactured in China and Asia – and often used – may not be certified.
In its cases against HVG and Fairview, William Roberts Lawyers – backed by litigation funding business IMF Bentham – will argue that the ACM panels previously available at the time should not have been sold into Australia as the polyethylene-core panels did not meet standards, and could cause or spread fire.
HVG is reported as saying it complied with all relevant laws and codes, and that any use of the panels in ways that could create risk of fire spreading was down to the consultants and contractors. It ceased selling the product in question many years ago. Fairview Architectural - affiliated to the ultra religious Bretheren group - is being queried on whether it was selling its product up until the Grenfell fire.
Initially centred on an apartment block in Dolls Point, NSW, the class action wants Halifax Vogel to pay for replacement cladding, pay compensation, and pay for the high insurance premiums apartment owners are facing. The Fairview case relates to an apartment block in Warwick Farm, NSW.
The cladding issue sparked into life following the Grenfell disaster in London which saw 72 residents of an inner city 24-story tower block perish as a kitchen fire engulfed the whole building, thanks to the building's cladding.
Since then cladding has shot to the top of the agenda around the world, with Australia no exception.