LANGUAGE

H.D. & W.O. Wills Ltd. et al. v. The Consumer Claims Tribunal of New South Wales

The plaintiff, Dr Hodson, had smoked cigarettes since 1975. On 2 August 1994 she bought a packet of Benson and Hedges cigarettes, which were manufactured by WD and HO wills and distributed by the Benson and Hedges company. Subsequently, she resolved to quit smoking. She filed a consumer claim in the Consumer Claims Tribunal for a money order of $1000, claiming the cost of a quit smoking program and compensation for physical and mental distress in overcoming her nicotine addiction. Dr Hodson alleged that the defendant companies had failed to warn her that cigarettes were addictive.

The defendant companies sought a ruling from the Tribunal that it had no jurisdiction to hear the claim, on the basis, amongst other things, that they were not "suppliers" within the meaning of s3(1) of the Consumer Claims Tribunals Act (ie. they said that they were the manufacturer and the distributor, respectively, and the shop from which Dr Hodson had purchased her pack was the relevant "supplier"). The defendant companies also argued that the plaintiff's claim was statute-barred because she had started smoking in 1975, not in 1994 when she purchased the pack (pursuant to the Act Dr Hodson needed to file her claim within 3 years of the relevant supply). The Tribunal ruled that it had jurisdiction and a single judge in the Supreme Court upheld that decision. This was an appeal by the companies from that decision.

In this decision, the Court of Appeal upheld the lower courts' decisions that the defendants were relevant "suppliers". The Court of Appeal also upheld the decision that Dr Hodson's claim was not statute-barred. Therefore, the Court of Appeal dismissed the tobacco companies' appeal and held that the Consumer Claims Tribunal had jurisdiction to hear Dr Hodson's claim.