Canadian tobacco class actions head to trial

Case could substantially impact industry litigation

Big things are afoot north of the border, and they have nothing to do with mythical, hirsute creatures. Two class action lawsuits that consumers filed against the tobacco industry in 1998, which were combined and certified to proceed in 2005, are being hailed as the biggest lawsuit in Canadian history (and the first class action against the tobacco industry) to ever get to trial.

After nearly 14 years and more than 50 pretrial motions, the two suits are being tried together with common evidence before Justice Brian Riordan in Québec Superior Court. The two classes are composed of Québec residents dealing with divergent issues. The first class, represented by lead plaintiffs Conseil québécois sur le tabac et la santé (Québec Counsel on Tobacco and Health) and Jean-Yves Blais, comprises smokers who have suffered from cancer of the lung, larynx or throat, or emphysema. A purported class of more than 90,000 people seeks $9.45 billion in damages. Lead plaintiff Cécilia Létourneau represents the second class, which centers on addiction. The purported class in this lawsuit is estimated to include about 1.78 million Québec smokers seeking $17.8 billion in damages.

Gaining Certification

Considering this is just the fourth class action against the tobacco industry to ever get to trial in the world, gaining certification is paramount. Historically, the biggest problem for plaintiffs in both the U.S. and Canada has been winning class certification. In fact, only one other class action, Knight v. Imperial Tobacco Canada Limited, has been certified in Canada.

Similarities and Differences

There are a number of parallels between the Québec case and tobacco cases in the U.S. Glendinning says the nature of the claims are similar in that they’re product liability claims, failure-to-warn claims and product defect claims, but in this case, they’re under Québec’s civil
law jurisdiction.

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