Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. to appeal decision in Québec class action tobacco suits

MONTRÉAL, June 1, 2015 /CNW/ - Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. (RBH) will appeal the trial court decision released in Montréal today that found in favor of plaintiffs in two class actions—one seeking damages for addiction and one for smoking-related diseases. The cases, based on alleged conduct from decades ago, were filed in 1998 and later consolidated for trial. 

The trial court found that the class members' damages totaled approximately 15.6 billion CAD, allocating 3.1 billion CAD to RBH, 10.5 billion CAD to Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., and 2 billion CAD to JTI-MacDonald Corp.  The trial court calculated these amounts based on the assumption that all of the individuals estimated to be part of the disease class as defined will ultimately file a  valid claim, while recognizing that in most large class actions only a small portion of eligible class members make a claim.  The ultimate damages disposition will depend on further proceedings at the trial court level and an individual claims process for eligible class members.

RBH's parent company, Philip Morris International Inc., is not a party to these cases and is not liable for any portion of the judgment.  

Commenting on today's ruling, RBH spokesperson Anne Edwards said:

"These cases are far from over. We will vigorously appeal this lower court's judgment, and believe that we have very strong legal grounds to overturn the judgment in its entirety.

Plaintiffs sought money for over a million people but not a single class member, in nearly three years of trial, testified under oath. Not one showed up to say that he or she was unaware of the risks of smoking. We believe that, in light of prevailing law and common sense, the judgment should not stand.

The evidence at trial, including the government's own polling and statements, demonstrated that the Canadian public has been aware of the risks of smoking for many decades. The trial court explicitly acknowledged this but nonetheless held RBH liable to those who chose to smoke in light of these well-known risks.

The Québec Court of Appeal has already ruled – in an earlier appeal in these very cases – that by bringing a class action, plaintiffs must prove not only that defendants engaged in wrongdoing but that this wrongdoing caused injury to every member of the class. The trial court had no evidence to conclude that any class members smoked and were injured due to any alleged wrongdoing by RBH, much less regarding the number of class members on which its judgment is based."

For decades, RBH has operated under one of the most comprehensive sets of regulations in the world. Federal and provincial governments have long recognized the serious health risks of smoking and have strictly regulated the manufacture, sale and marketing of the product. 

The trial court ordered the defendants to deposit a portion of the damages, approximately 1.1 billion CAD, into a trust account within 60 days. RBH's share of this deposit is 246 million CAD. Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd.'s share is 743 million CAD and JTI-Macdonald Corp.'s share is 143 million CAD

The cases are Létourneau v. Imperial Tobacco Canada Limitée, et al. (the addiction class), and Conseil Québécois sur le Tabac et la Santé (CQTS) et Blais v. JTI-Macdonald Corp., et al. (the disease class) before the Superior Court of the District of Montréal, Province of Québec.

Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc., an affiliate of Philip Morris International Inc., is one of Canada's leading tobacco companies and employs nearly 800 people across the country with its headquarters in Toronto and a factory in Québec City.  To receive more information on these cases go to www.tobaccolitigation.ca.

SOURCE Rothmans, Benson & Hedges

Image with caption: "Rothmans, Benson & Hedges (CNW Group/Rothmans, Benson & Hedges)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20150601_C5326_PHOTO_EN_17382.jpg

For further information: Media inquiries: RBH media office, T: 416-442-3545, E: media@rbhinc.ca

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