Andre Lesperance, one of the class action lawyers, holds up a copy of the decision by the Quebec Court of Appeal’s to uphold a Superior Court ruling in two class-action lawsuits against three tobacco companies, Friday, March 1, 2019 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Appeals Court upholds landmark ruling ordering tobacco companies to pay billions

Imperial Tobacco, JTI-Macdonald and Rothmans-Benson & Hedges had appealed a ruling

In what is being described as a major defeat for the tobacco industry, the Quebec Court of Appeal on Friday upheld a landmark judgment ordering three companies to pay billions of dollars in damages to Quebec smokers.

Imperial Tobacco, JTI-Macdonald and Rothmans-Benson & Hedges had appealed a ruling that found the companies chose profits over the health of their customers.

In June 2015, Quebec Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan ordered the companies to make payments of more than $15-billion to smokers who either fell ill or were addicted. At the time, the ruling was believed to be the biggest class action award in Canadian history.

Lise Blais, the widow of a man who died from smoking-related illness, said Friday she was sorry her husband couldn’t be there to share the moment. Jean-Yves Blais, one of the case’s original plaintiffs, died of lung cancer in September 2012 at the age of 68.

“During the trial, the tobacco companies said it was the fault of the smokers, but for me it isn’t. They played hide-and-seek with smokers,” she said.

She said her husband began smoking in the 1950s, when people weren’t aware of the risks, and he was unable to quit despite trying three times. “They’re liars,” she said of the tobacco companies.

She described Friday’s decision as a victory, but noted it is unlikely to be the end of the road for victims, given the likelihood that the matter will end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Philippe Trudel, a lawyer for smokers who brought the class action, called Friday’s decision a complete victory. Trudel estimated that after the appeal ruling, the total damages owed by the companies would be more than $17-billion.

“It is excellent news for victims who have been waiting for this day for a long time. We’re very happy with the result, clearly,” he said.

Quebec’s highest court, which began hearing the appeal in 2016, struck down almost all of the tobacco companies’ grounds for appeal. The five-judge panel confirmed that the companies failed in their duty to inform their customers of the risks of smoking and failed to demonstrate that consumers were aware of the risk.

The judges concluded that the companies understood that their marketing strategies would expose consumers to the risk of addiction or fatal disease. “In so doing, they certainly infringed in an illicit and intentional fashion the rights to life, to personal security and to inviolability” of the plaintiffs, the court ruled.

The 422-page decision concluded that the tobacco companies failed to demonstrate errors of law in the lower court ruling, “except on certain minor points.”

Rothmans-Benson & Hedges denounced the judgment and said it would seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Today’s decision by the Court of Appeal changes a fundamental principle of class action law and allows class-wide recovery of damages without proof from even a single class member,” the firm’s managing director, Peter Luongo, said in a statement.

“We believe this unprecedented change in the law warrants review and reversal by the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Eric Gagnon, a spokesman for Imperial Tobacco, said the company was disappointed by Friday’s decision.

“We’ve shown that adult consumers have known the risks associated with tobacco for decades,” he said. “We also know that it’s the federal government that gives us the license to allow us to operate in this market, and we followed the laws and regulations,” he told reporters.

JTI-Macdonald Corp. issued a statement saying it “fundamentally disagrees” with the decision. JTI-Macdonald and Imperial indicated they are also considering appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Court of Appeal did find the judge erred in several minor aspects, including how the interest was calculated. Trudel called the change a “technicality” that would have little effect on the overall damages.

“Out of all the billions, I don’t think they’ll call it a victory,” he said. ”But we call it a total victory on all fronts.”

Friday’s decision is the latest step in a case that has been before the courts for more than 20 years. The companies were targeted in two lawsuits heard at the same time, which were filed in 1998 and only argued in court in 2012. They covered roughly 100,000 smokers who took up the habit between 1950 and 1998.

One lawsuit was started by people who were addicted to cigarettes and couldn’t quit, and the second was brought by those who had suffered from cancer or emphysema.

Some 76 witnesses testified at the Superior Court trial and nearly 43,000 documents were entered into evidence, including internal tobacco company documents that showed smokers didn’t know or understand the risks associated with cigarettes.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Abbotsford teacher has picture book published with message about kindness

It took Nikki Bergstresser six years to have Seasons of Stone published

Air quality across the Lower Mainland could worsen slightly

AQ health index could see ‘low risk’ gravitate into ‘moderate risk’ from Vancouver to Hope

‘Alien invasion’: Strange webbing creeps in overnight in Agassiz,Harrison

Eerie webbing might be the result of a growth in moth population

BC Green Party announces candidate for Abbotsford South

Former provincial and municipal candidate Aird Flavelle seeks election

Abbotsford’s Haidyn Vermeulen signs with Alberta Golden Bears

Grade 12 Abby Senior student joining Edmonton-based football program in 2021

105 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death as health officials urge B.C. to remember safety protocols

There are currently 1268 active cases, with 3,337 people under public health monitoring

Orange Shirt Day lessons of past in today’s classrooms

Phyllis Webstad, who attended St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in British Columbia, is credited for creating the movement

Greens’ Furstenau fires at NDP, Liberals on pandemic recovery, sales tax promise

She also criticized the NDP economic recovery plan, arguing it abandons the tourism industry

U.S. Presidential Debate Takeaways: An acrid tone from the opening minute

Here are key takeaways from the first of three scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on Nov. 3

Another death as COVID-19 outbreak at Delta Hospital climbs to 18 cases

Total of 12 patients and six staff in one unit have tested positive for COVID-19: Fraser Health

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. nurses report rise in depression, anxiety, exhaustion due to pandemic

A new UBC study looks into how the COVID-19 response has impacted frontline nurses

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

National child-care plan could help Canada rebound from COVID-induced economic crisis: prof

A $2 billion investment this year could help parents during second wave of pandemic

Most Read