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.

Just Posted

Governor General’s Award-winning author launches her new book

Wendy Phillips’s ‘Baggage’ is told in experimental ‘free verse’ style

Pirates climb to first place in premier league

Mid Island baseball team wins four more to extend win streak to eight games

Nanaimo city councillors to hold e-town hall meeting on strategic priorities

Meeting will take place May 23 at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre

Editorial: Homelessness task force has to be more than misdirection

Task force won’t be able to address all the challenging issues that come before Nanaimo council

Nanaimo Heritage Festival helps highlight the long weekend

Parade and family activities took place downtown today, May 19

Nanaimo youth theatre group presenting ‘Hairspray Jr.’

Headliners director and actors agree musical’s message continues to resonate

Nanaimo ferry stops to let bear swim past

Queen of Oak Bay brakes for wildlife

Take-home drug testing kits latest pilot to help curb B.C.’s overdose crisis

Researchers look to see if fentanyl testing could be a useful tool for those who use drugs alone

Two cats die in house fire in Nanaimo

Fire happened just after 2 p.m. Sunday on Fifth Street, one resident displaced

Nanaimo author details hotel history along the E&N railway

Along the E&N tells the story of 32 establishments from Esquimalt to Campbell River

RDN looking into providing bus service 365 days a year

RDN transit committee to consider adding bus service on Christmas, New Year’s and Good Friday

Wheelchair basketball in Nanaimo accessible to all abilities

Harbour City Slam play day introduced newcomers to the sport

Speed limit lowered at Departure Bay Beach

Speed limit reduced to 40 km/h until the fall

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Most Read