Judge awards CA$15 bil. to Que­bec smok­ers

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

A judge has awarded more than CA$15 bil­lion (US$12 bil­lion) to Que­bec smok­ers in a case that pit­ted them against three gi­ant tobacco com­pa­nies. The case is be­lieved to be the big­gest class-ac­tion law­suit ever seen in Canada.

Su­pe­rior Court Jus­tice Brian Rior­dan said in his de­ci­sion re­leased late Mon­day that by choos­ing not to in­form health au­thor­i­ties or the public di­rectly of what they knew, the com­pa­nies chose prof­its over the health of their cus­tomers.

The judg­ment calls on the com­pa­nies to is­sue ini­tial com­pen­sa­tion of more than CA$1 bil­lion (US$800 mil­lion) in the next 60 days, re­gard­less of whether they elect to ap­peal. The judge will de­cide at a later date how to dis­trib­ute those funds.

JTI- Macdon­ald, Im­pe­rial Tobacco and Roth­mans, Ben­son & Hedges said they will ap­peal.

The Que­bec case marked the first time tobacco com­pa­nies had gone to trial in a civil law­suit in Canada and in­volved two sep­a­rate groups of plain­tiffs: some of whom be­came se­ri­ously ill from smok­ing and oth­ers who said they couldn’t quit.

Rior­dan de­nounced the firms’ ac­tions.

“The com­pa­nies earned bil­lions of dol­lars at the ex­pense of the lungs, the throats and the gen­eral well-be­ing of their cus­tomers,” he wrote. “If the com­pa­nies are al­lowed to walk away un­scathed now, what would be the mes­sage to other in­dus­tries that to­day or to­mor­row find them­selves in a sim­i­lar moral con­flict?”

‘Hurt their right to life’

More than 1 mil­lion Que­be­cers were rep­re­sented and ar­gued the com­pa­nies were li­able be­cause they knew they were putting out a harm­ful prod­uct and hid the health ef­fects of tobacco.

Lise Balais, who lost her hus­band to lung can­cer, said she waited for a rul­ing for 17 years. Her hus­band had tried to quit five or six times in 14 years but couldn’t.

The in­dus­try ar­gued peo­ple knew about the risks of smok­ing and that the prod­ucts were sold legally and with fed­eral gov­ern­ment ap­proval and strict reg­u­la­tion.

“Th­ese cases are far from over,” RBH spokes­woman Anne Ed­wards said in a state­ment. “We will vig- orously ap­peal this lower court’s judg­ment.”

JTI-Macdon­ald said Cana­di­ans have been well aware of the health risks since the 1950s and health warn­ings have been on packages for more than 40 years.

The three firms will split the pay­out ac­cord­ing to re­spon­si­bil­ity set out by the court — 67 per­cent will fall to Im­pe­rial Tobacco, 20 per­cent to Roth­mans, Ben­son & Hedges, and 13 per­cent to JTI- Macdon­ald.

“Th­ese three com­pa­nies lied to their cus­tomers for 50 years and hurt their right to life,” An­dre Les­per­ance, one of the lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the plain­tiffs, said Mon­day. “It’s a great victory for vic­tims as well as for so­ci­ety in gen­eral.”

The trial stemmed from two cases that were orig­i­nally filed separately in 1998 be­fore be­ing cer­ti­fied and con­sol­i­dated in 2005. The case be­gan sit­ting in 2012.

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