A historically significant trial is underway this morning in Montreal.
In 1998, a group of plaintiffs filed two separate class action lawsuits against three major Canadian tobacco companies—Imperial Tobacco Group, JTI-Macdonald Corp. and Rothmans Benson & Hedges Inc.—claiming they failed to warn consumers about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. The Quebec Superior Court, which consolidated the cases in 2005, is hearing arguments today after years of motions, delays and appeals.
The suit, which seeks between $25 billion and $27 billion in damages and penalties, is considered to be the largest-ever civil suit in the country. The trial also marks the first time that tobacco companies have gone to trial in a civil suit in Canada.
The first class in the suit includes 90,000 current and former smokers in Quebec who claim cigarettes caused them to develop a variety of smoking-related illnesses, including emphysema and cancer. The suit seeks $105,000 per person in the class. The second class includes 1.8 million current smokers who are seeking $10,000 each because they can’t quit smoking because of the addictive nature of cigarettes.
The plaintiffs accuse the tobacco companies of conspiring to prevent the public from learning information about the dangers of smoking, and downplaying the dangers of smoking through false advertising. The lawsuit further alleges that the tobacco companies manipulated the nicotine and tar levels in their cigarettes to boost their addictiveness. Plaintiffs also claim the companies hid research that established a link between smoking and serious health problems.