Appeals Court upholds landmark ruling ordering tobacco companies to pay billions

MONTREAL — The Quebec Court of Appeal has upheld a landmark judgment that ordered three tobacco 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.

Philippe Trudel, a lawyer for smokers who brought the class action, called today’s appellate court decision a complete victory and excellent news for victims.

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.

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 deposited as evidence, including internal tobacco company documents that showed smokers didn’t know or understand the risks associated with cigarettes.

The three cigarette companies argued their customers knew the risks of smoking. Moreover, the firms claimed their products were sold legally under strict regulation by the federal government.

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 and upheld the judge’s decision.

The court 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.”

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