After 15 years of litigation and legal hang-ups, two Quebec class-action lawsuits against three major tobacco companies — JTI-Macdonald, Imperial Tobacco and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges — are anticipated to come to a close this coming spring.
The Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health (CQTS) and plaintiff Jean-Yves Blais initiated a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 90,000 smokers and non-smokers who became victims of either lung, throat or larynx cancer linked to smoking and emphysema. The second class-action lawsuit was launched by CQTS and plaintiff Cécilia Létourneau on behalf of 1.8 million people addicted to tobacco in Quebec.
While these lawsuits were filed in 1998, the Quebec Superior Court only authorized these class actions in 2005. From then until 2012, the plaintiffs completed the preparatory steps toward the trial for the two class actions, culminating in the beginning of the trial for both on March 12, 2012.
Mario Bujold, director general of the CQTS stressed the significance of this lawsuit in a press release at the start of the trial, stating “smoking is responsible for the death of 28 Quebecers each day, making it the leading cause of avoidable deaths in Quebec.”
According to the plaintiffs’ formal applications, the sums claimed by the CQTS and Jean-Yves Blais class action are a lump-sum payment of $100,000 per member for the “loss of enjoyment, suffering and physical and moral pain, shortened life expectancy, problems, annoyances and inconveniences” after being diagnosed with a related illness.
For the CQTS and Cécilia Létourneau class action, the sums claimed are a lump-sum payment of $5,000 per member for damages related to addiction. Both class actions are claiming an additional $5,000 in damages for infringing on a right guaranteed under the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and for false advertising contrary to the Consumer Protection Act. These two class actions also include the heirs of persons deceased who meet the criteria for eligibility. Witnesses are being brought forward from both sides for examination and cross-examination. During the day, the court might hear why people smoke, the art of blending tobacco, and the correct way to smoke a cigarette. On another day, the court might learn about the levels of tar, nicotine and additives found in each cigarette, and whether these companies secretly destroyed evidence revealing the addictive, toxic nature of their products.
According to the blog “Eye on the Trials,” created on behalf of Quebec Council of Tobacco and Health, the last witness for the trial is scheduled to be heard in April 2014.
The results of this trial will have major implications for public health issues not just in Quebec, but internationally. If the tobacco companies are held responsible, they will have to pay more than $27 billion in damages.
“With this trial, thousands of people like me, who suffered from a disease caused by tobacco, can now be heard,” said Blais in a public statement released by CQTS in March 2012.
In 2010, these two class actions received $300,000 from a class action assistance fund made available in Quebec called Fonds d’aide aux recours collectifs (FARC). If they win the case, they may be required to give a portion back to FARC to help fund future Quebec class actions.
Quebec introduced class actions in 1978 and was the first province in Canada to do so. These are the first class-action lawsuits against tobacco companies in Canada to go to the trial stage.
Court hearings are open to the public. This trial is normally in session from Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Cour supérieure du Québec, 1 rue Notre-Dame E. in room 17.09.