What The Ruling Means For Builders

Melbourne’s Lacrosse tower in Docklands suffered a severe fire in 2014. Flames scaled the multi-storey building in minutes, quickly reaching the roof and continuing to burn with shocking ferocity. Surprised residents barely had time to react as the fire took hold of the building.

While it was a cigarette that started the fire, the extreme damage that resulted has been attributed to the presence of combustible cladding along the exterior of the building. This material was found to have significantly contributed to the speed at which the fire spread across the building as well as the high number of damaged apartments.

It wasn’t until 2019 that owners of apartments in the tower learned they would receive $5.7 million in damages as well as most of their $12.7 million in claims. The judge decided that the costs would be spread across multiple contractors based on the degree of negligence they had exhibited. It will be split amongst the builder (3%), architects (25%), fire engineer (39%) and certifier (35%) according to ABC News.

Although there have been other recent fires in the Melbourne area such as the Neo 200 fire, the judge was clear that the verdict on this case is exclusive to the particular situation at Lacrosse. The win for the owners and residents may not necessarily be seen as a precedent for future similar cases.

In a case that spanned years, enormous legal fees and years of emotional stress, not all residents may consider this win on par with what they are owed. Since the fire, many have been living in unsafe homes that still have non-compliant cladding. This case has also served as a warning to the public to seek detailed building information when buying in apartment towers.

This ruling was a shock to the building industry and will hopefully work to remind contractors of their obligations towards future residents. Although the combustible cladding was not illegal to use or banned from use, it was widely known to be a contributing factor to large fires. It can reasonably be assumed that this was known during the building of Lacrosse apartments.

The installation of the Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP) has been described as a negligent act on the part of the building contractors. According to the Australian Building Codes Board, cladding must satisfy compliance codes and the judge has deemed that in this case, the experts should have flagged its use to the contractors.

The Lacrosse case is a message to all building professionals that they will be expected to provide due diligence and duty of care when building residential towers. It also speaks to the fact that they will be held responsible for completing their job satisfactorily and to the level expected of an expert in the field.

As the Victorian state-wide audit of building materials is ongoing, many are unknowingly being placed in an at-risk living environment. While this high-profile case has been closed there are still hundreds of buildings across Victoria that have unsafe combustible cladding installed. We expect to see the industry greatly affected as ACP and other flammable materials become banned or deemed unacceptable for use and removal is scheduled.

If you require specialist help with the replacement or removal of combustible cladding, speak with us today.