Quebec Class Action
Two class action lawsuits were filed in Canada in 1998 against major tobacco companies; the cases were later combined. One class (Blais) involved Quebec residents with lung cancer, throat cancer, or emphysema. The other class (Letourneau) involved Quebec residents addicted to nicotine. After a lengthy trial, the court found that the tobacco companies caused injury, failed to inform customers of the risks and dangers of its products, and violated Quebec law.
In the Blais case, the court awarded moral damages (e.g., for pain and suffering) of $15.5 billion, to be paid jointly by the three tobacco companies. In the Letourneau case, although the court found that the tobacco companies were at fault, it did not award moral damages because there was not enough evidence to determine the total amount of the class members’ claims. In both cases the court awarded punitive damages, which it calculated based on one year of before-tax profits for each tobacco company. In Blais, the court reduced this award to the symbolic amount of $30,000 for each defendant, representing one dollar for each death the tobacco industry causes in Canada each year. In Letourneau, the court awarded punitive damages of $131 million. The tobacco companies must make an initial deposit on the judgment of $1 billion while the appeal is pending.
Note: this decision was upheld on appeal, see JTI, et al. v. Letourneau, et al., No 500-09-025385-154, 500-09-025386-152 et 500-09-025387-150, (Quebec Court of Appeals 2019).