The Class Action
In September 1998, Ms. Cécilia Létourneau filed a Motion to institute a class action and to obtain the status of representative against Imperial Tobacco, Rothmans Benson & Hedges and JTI MacDonald, the three main tobacco companies in Canada.
The recourse taken by Ms. Létourneau notably sought damages as well as punitive damages for each person addicted to the nicotine contained in cigarettes manufactured by the Respondents.
In February 2005, the Honourable Justice Pierre Jasmin authorized the class action to proceed in the Quebec Superior Court.
After almost fourteen years of continuous efforts and in spite of the tobacco companies’ systematic obstruction, the trial began on March 12, 2012 before the Honourable Brian Riordan, who had been managing the case since 2008.
Mr. Justice Riordan and his predecessors have rendered more than 100 interlocutory judgments in the file and more than 40 of those have been appealed by the defendants, none successfully.
The trial, lasting over 250 days over two and a half years, was the longest trial on the merits of a class action in Canadian history.
If you would like more details on the witnesses and daily events that occurred during the trial, you can visit the blog “Eye on the Trials”.
Are you a member?
In his judgment on the merits dated May 27, 2015, Justice Riordan concluded that the members of the group can be described as follows:
“All persons residing in Quebec who, as of September 30, 1998, were addicted to the nicotine contained in the cigarettes made by the defendants and who otherwise satisfy the following criteria:
1) They started to smoke before September 30, 1994 and since that date have smoked principally cigarettes manufactured by the defendants;
2) Between September 1 and September 30, 1998, they smoked on a daily basis an average of at least 15 cigarettes manufactured by the defendants; and
3) On February 21, 2005, or until their death if it occurred before that date, they were still smoking on a daily basis an average of at least 15 cigarettes manufactured by the defendants.
The group also includes the heirs of the members who satisfy the criteria described above.”
Where are we now?
On May 27, 2015, Justice Riordan of the Quebec Superior Court found in favor of the plaintiffs against the Canadian tobacco industry.
This judgment concluded that the defendants have violated their general duty not to cause injury to another, their manufacturer’s duty to inform their clients of the risks and dangers of their products, their manufacturer’s obligation not to hide the truth from or mislead their clients concerning their products as well as their clients’ rights to life, personal security, personal inviolability and dignity protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
Justice Riordan ordered the three companies to pay more than $15 billion in moral and punitive damages. Justice Riordan awarded $131 million in punitive damages to the Létourneau class action an amount that the judge ruled to be impossible or too expensive to distribute individually.
At the end of June, all three tobacco companies appealed Justice Riordan’s decision. An accelerated hearing was granted allowing the appeal to be heard by the Court of Appeal in the fall of 2016.
On October 27, 2015, the Court of Appeal rendered an important judgment ordering Imperial Tobacco and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges to furnish security in an amount close to 1 billion dollars.