Big To­bacco fights $1-bil­lion rul­ing

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - BY SID­HARTHA BAN­ER­JEE

The coun­try's largest to­bacco firms say they don't have the nec­es­sary cash to make a $1-bil­lion pay­ment by the end of the month to Que­bec smok­ers who won a land­mark class-ac­tion suit.

Lawyers ar­gued in court Thurs­day that a pro­vi­sion in the $15.6-bil­lion judg­ment oblig­ing the com­pa­nies to pro­vide an ini­tial com­pen­sa­tion of $1.13 bil­lion within 60 days of the rul­ing should be over­turned. The pay­ment is due July 26. All three com­pa­nies have ap­pealed the de­ci­sion that saw a Que­bec judge rule that Im­pe­rial To­bacco, Roth­mans, Ben­son & Hedges and JTI-Mac­don­ald must fork over $15.6 bil­lion to smok­ers who ei­ther fell ill or couldn't quit the habit.

On Thurs­day, lawyers for all three firms told a Que­bec Court of Ap­peal hear­ing they sim­ply don't have the funds to cover the $1.13-bil­lion pay­ment, which they ar­gued could cause ir­repara­ble harm to their abil­ity to ap­peal and even put them on the brink of bank­ruptcy.

They ar­gued Su­pe­rior Court Jus­tice Brian Rior­dan, the trial judge, erred in grant­ing the pro­vi­sion­ary sum and that the amount would not be re­cov­er­able if they even­tu­ally won on ap­peal. But lawyers for the plain­tiffs said the to­bacco com­pa­nies are bluff­ing and are very ca­pa­ble of find­ing the nec­es­sary money from their par­ent com­pa­nies based out­side Canada or from else­where. One lawyer noted the to­bacco firms haven't put aside any money for the Cana­dian le­gal case.

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