A Quebec judge just issued a historic ruling, ordering three big tobacco companies to pay $15B settlement in Canada’s biggest class action suit. Andre Lesperance, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “These three companies lied to their customers for 50 years and hurt their right to life. It’s a great victory for victims as well as for society in general.”
The suit began as two separate actions that were later merged. One was filed by widow Lise Blais soon after her husband, Jean-Yves, succumed to lung cancer. Mrs. Blais was present at a press conference in Montreal where she asked people to quit smoking. While holding photographs of her late husband, she said, “Your health is completely lost.”
The ruling was issued by Quebec Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan after years of testimony and six months of deliberation. The opinion in 276 pages long and orders the three defendants – Imperial Tobacco, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and JTI-Macdonald – to share payment responsibility.
Imperial is on the hook for 67% ($10.5B), Rothmans, Benson & Hedges for 20% ($3.1B) and JTI-Macdonald for 13% ($2B). The judgement further orders the companies to pay not less than $1B to the settlement fund within 60 days regardless of intent to appeal. Of course, all three defendants are planning to appeal.
The case is the first in which Big Tobacco went to trial in a civil suit in Canada with two groups of plaintiffs merged into one super group. One group, qualifying under the Blais action, consists of 99,957 people who have suffered lung, larynx or throat cancer or emphysema.
The other group, qualifying under an action filed by Cecilia Letourneau on behalf of Quebec smokers addicted to nicotine and unable to quit or who died before being able to quit, consists of 918,218 people.
The 1M+ strong class alleges that Big Tobacco is liable because it had knowledge of the the harmful and addictive nature of its products and that labels weren’t adequate. This is very similar to a suit in the U.S. [link]
This landmark case took over 234 days to be heard, with 78 witnesses and several weeks of final arguments.
It remains to be seen if the defendants will prevail in their appeals. It would be a great day indeed if they did not. If they don’t, one must wonder if a new group of suits against American Big Tobacco could arise, using data from the Canadian suits.
We live in interesting times, my friends.
For those who would like more information on “The Battle Against Big Tobacco,” click the link. You can also find helpful information on quitting smoking from the good folks at StopSmokingAids.com, where the article is published.