SPASIC vs. Imperial Tobacco et al.

 

May 1, 1997:
Mirjana Spasic files a claim against imperial Tobacco and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges for damages in the amount of $1,000,000 in association with her lung cancer.

September 16, 1997:
A second suit, Spasic Estate v. B.A.T. Industries p.l.c., is filed.

The claim includes allegations of intentional "spoliation of evidence" (i.e. that the tobacco companies destroyed evidence of their wrongdoing).

February 1998:
Mirjana Spasic dies of smoking-related lung cancer. Her daugher, Ljubisa Spasic, continues the claim on behalf of her estate.

November 25 1998:
Justice Cameron of the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division) strikes out sections 8 - 15 of the statement of claim

June 1999
Ms. Spasic's lawyers publish an article describing the legal issues of spoliation in the Canadian Bar Review

July 21, 2000
The Court of Appeal of Ontario strikes down Justice Cameron's ruling and reinstates sections 8 - 15 of the claim (but strikes down section 16 of the claim).

March 21, 2001
Supreme Court of Canada declines a leave to appeal the Ontario Appeal Court decision of July 2000

February 2, 2003
Ontario Superior Court rejects a further request of Imperial Tobacco and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges to strike down sections of the statement of claim.

May 1, 2003
Imperial Tobacco Canada ltd and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges both file  statements of defence


Media Coverage


CTV Inquiry CTV National News - CTV Television.

Scarborough:Dec 14, 1997. ***[insert pages]***

[SANDIE RINALDO]: Miriana Spasic is dying of cancer but that isn't stopping her from taking on one of the biggest cigarette companies in the world. The Ontario woman has launched a million dollar lawsuit against BAT Industries. The case is the first of its kind in Canada. Spasic says the company which has a controlling interest in Canada's Imperial Tobacco knew for years that its cigarettes were addictive and dangerous. CTV's Anton Koschany has more in this CTV Inquiry.

ANTON KOSCHANY: Miriana Spasic is dying. Her brain and lungs ravaged by cancer. Her doctors give her just weeks to live. But Miriana is still hooked on cigarettes. The same cigarettes she claims made her so terribly sick.

KOSCHANY: The top brass at BAT Industries deny the allegations. They insist Miriana doesn't even have the right to sue the cigarette giant in Canada. If she wants to fight, she'll have to go to London. But Miriana Spasic believes.

Full Text (562 words) Copyright CTV Television Network Ltd. Dec 14, 1997

HOST: SANDIE RINALDO

SANDIE RINALDO: Miriana Spasic is dying of cancer but that isn't stopping her from taking on one of the biggest cigarette companies in the world. The Ontario woman has launched a million dollar lawsuit against BAT Industries. The case is the first of its kind in Canada. Spasic says the company which has a controlling interest in Canada's Imperial Tobacco knew for years that its cigarettes were addictive and dangerous. CTV's Anton Koschany has more in this CTV Inquiry.

ANTON KOSCHANY: Miriana Spasic is dying. Her brain and lungs ravaged by cancer. Her doctors give her just weeks to live. But Miriana is still hooked on cigarettes. The same cigarettes she claims made her so terribly sick.

Why did you keep smoking?

MIRIANA SPASIC: I just can't stop.

KOSCHANY: Miriana smoked more than a pack a day for over 20 years, a habit she began as a young woman. Soon she was addicted. She tried many times to give up smoking but never could.

LOU SPASIC (Husband): She was beautiful and she was everything I ever wanted. You give somebody substance that can kill them and actually hook 'em, right? Like a drug. And they say oh, I'm sorry, I told you so. Oh, you're dying now. Too bad. Nice?

Okay, just take it easy, okay?

MIRIANA SPASIC: Yeah.

KOSCHANY: Now Miriana and her husband, Lou want the makers of those cigarettes to pay. They're suing one of the biggest cigarette companies in the world, BAT, British American Tobacco.

MIRIANA SPASIC: (inaudible)...

ANDREAS SEIBERT (Spasic's Lawyer): She knows she's going to be dead by the time of trial yet she wants us to carry on this fight and get at the truth.

KOSCHANY: It's the first lawsuit of its kind in Canada. Miriana alleges that for decades BAT knew that the cigarettes made by its companies including Canada's Imperial Tobacco were addictive and caused cancer and that the tobacco giant hid that knowledge from her and every other smoker in the world.

And they hope to prove it armed with a mountain of the cigarette company's own secret internal documents. Here's what they reveal. 1957, BAT began studying the links between smoking and cancer which they code named Zephyr. 1965, Project Janus, experiments with mice and cigarette smoke. The mice developed tumours. 1983, Project Rio, BAT tried to make a cigarette that didn't cause cancer.

SEIBERT: This industry would appear to have known for many years that their product is dangerous.

KOSCHANY: And according to the documents, addictive. 1962, BAT's top scientist admits smoking is a habit of addiction that is pleasurable. BAT launched a series of studies, code name Mad Hatter and Project Hippo, to learn more about the nicotine hit. 1974, in Project Wheat, BAT studied ways to make a cigarette that better delivered addictive nicotine.

MIRIANA SPASIC: I will live. I'm sure.

KOSCHANY: The top brass at BAT Industries deny the allegations. They insist Miriana doesn't even have the right to sue the cigarette giant in Canada. If she wants to fight, she'll have to go to London. But Miriana Spasic believes.

MIRIANA SPASIC: They're killing people. And they know.

SEIBERT: She wants justice. Cigarettes may kill her in the end but she may be the first nail in their coffin.

KOSCHANY: Anton Koschany, CTV News, Toronto.

 

Last-gasp suit alleges tobacco conspiracy:[Final Edition]

The Province. Vancouver, B.C.:Dec 15, 1997. p. A13

TORONTO -- An Ontario woman with cancer is suing British American Tobacco, claiming it had evidence for years that cigarettes cause cancer and are addictive.

Lawyers for Mirjana Spasic of Burlington hope to win their case with "a mountain of the cigarette company's own secret, internal documents," CTV News reported yesterday.

The statement of claim filed for Spasic claims BAT and its subsidiaries, including Montreal-based Imperial Tobacco, "conspired to suppress, conceal and destroy by unlawful means, documentary and other evidence . . . that cigarettes are hazardous to health to prevent such evidence becoming public knowledge."

A spokesman for British American Tobacco in London, England, told CTV the company denies all the allegations in Spasic's suit.

The company also argues Spasic can't sue BAT in Canada and any claim must be filed through the British court system.

CTV said Spasic's doctors have given her just weeks to live. She smoked more than a pack a day for more than 20 years but she continues to smoke.

"I just can't stop," she said. "It's simple."

CTV says a BAT research report, dated March 1, 1957, suggested the company had evidence tobacco smoke contains "a substance or substances" that may cause cancer.

Other studies in the 1960s and '70s done by the Battelle Institute in Germany for BAT found concentrates made from tobacco smoke caused cancer in laboratory mice, CTV said.

The company also did research into the addictive nature of nicotine.

"The documents show that the industry had a very sophisticated understanding of nicotine and the addictive nature of their product for many, many years," said Spasic's lawyer, Andreas Seibert.

"And yet, we're alleging, they sat on it. They hid it. They concealed it. All to protect profits," Seibert said.

Indexing (document details) Document types: News Dateline: TORONTO Section: News Publication title: The Province. Vancouver, B.C.: Dec 15, 1997. pg. A.13 Source type: Newspaper ProQuest document ID: 233758121

The woman who launched a lawsuit against a British tobacco giant has died but her lawsuit will go on anyway CTV National News - CTV Television. Scarborough:Mar 4, 1998. ***[insert pages]***

Abstract (Summary) [LLOYD ROBERTSON]: The Ontario woman who launched a legal first in Canada has died of cancer. Mariana Spasic was the focus of a recent CTV News inquiry.

Full Text (77 words) Copyright CTV Television Network Ltd. Mar 4, 1998

HOST: LLOYD ROBERTSON

LLOYD ROBERTSON: The Ontario woman who launched a legal first in Canada has died of cancer. Mariana Spasic was the focus of a recent CTV News inquiry. Spasic's lawsuit, which alleges a British tobacco giant knew the dangers of smoking but kept the information secret, is still going ahead despite her death. BAT Industries and its Canadian subsidiary Imperial Tobacco were named in the lawsuit.

Copyright CTV Television Network Ltd. 1998 All Rights Reserved.

Indexing (document details) Classification Codes 9172 Document types: Broadcast transcript Publication title: CTV National News - CTV Television. Scarborough: Mar 4, 1998. Source type: Transcript ProQuest document ID: 438580841 Text Word Count 77

 

Appeal court gives go-ahead to tobacco suit ; Widower alleges cigarette firms destroyed data:[Ontario Edition]

Tracey Tyler. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.:Jul 22, 2000. p. A21

The husband of a Burlington woman who died of lung cancer has won the right to sue Canada's tobacco companies for allegedly destroying evidence that would prove they had known since the 1950s that smoking was bad.

The Ontario Court of Appeal's unanimous decision yesterday dealt a blow to the cigarette makers' efforts to stop the lawsuit brought by Ljubisa (Lou) Spasic, which also alleges the tobacco makers deceitfully turned out dangerous products.

Spasic's wife, Mirjana, died of cancer two years ago at 53 after years of smoking.

His lawsuit, which seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and undetermined punitive damages, alleges Imperial Tobacco Ltd. and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. knew cigarettes were hazardous but deliberately deceived the public and destroyed documents proving the companies were well aware of the dangers.

The tobacco makers successfully attacked the claim in a lower court, arguing the right to sue over the alleged destruction of documents did not exist in law.

The appeal court, however, rejected that argument yesterday and parted company with earlier court rulings that tended to support the tobacco makers' view.

"The very few Canadian cases which have considered the question are far from definitive," said Mr. Justice Stephen Borins, writing for Justices James MacPherson and Robert Sharpe.

The decision sets the stage for delving into the document- shredding policies of the tobacco makers and whether evidence was shipped offshore, said Andreas Seibert, one of Spasic's Toronto lawyers.

"Now we're going to be able to fully pursue all evidence concerning the defendants' destruction policies and that of their affiliate companies," he said, adding that the implications of yesterday's decision are much bigger than this case.

"It is definitely sending out a message to alleged wrongdoers to beware, that the court is not going to allow you to be rewarded for having tried to cover up evidence."

Robert Hart, Spasic's other lawyer, said legal claims for monetary damages arising from document destruction are designed to cover situations where a plaintiff can't proceed with a lawsuit because evidence needed to prove the case has been destroyed.

Steven Sofer, a lawyer representing Rothmans, Benson & Hedges, said he thinks the company will seek leave to appeal yesterday's decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

It flies in the face of rulings from the British Columbia Court of Appeal, Ontario's Divisional Court and several U.S. courts, which said claims arising out of document destruction don't constitute a "reasonable cause of action," he said.

Yesterday's ruling comes a week after a Miami jury awarded the biggest personal injury punitive damage award in U.S. history, a $145 billion judgment against Big Tobacco on behalf of ill Florida smokers.

Credit: LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER

Indexing (document details) Author(s): Tracey Tyler Section: NEWS Publication title: Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Jul 22, 2000. pg. A.21 Source type: Newspaper ISSN: 03190781 ProQuest document ID: 426886171 Text Word Count 447

Appeal Court rules for widower of lung cancer victim

Canadian Press NewsWire. Toronto:Jul 22, 2000. 

TORONTO (CP) - The husband of a woman who died of lung cancer has won the right to sue Canada's tobacco companies for allegedly destroying evidence that would prove they had known since the 1950s that smoking was bad.

The Ontario Court of Appeal's unanimous decision on Friday dealt a blow to the cigarette makers' efforts to stop the lawsuit brought by Ljubisa (Lou) Spasic of Burlington, Ont., which also alleges the tobacco makers deceitfully turned out dangerous products.

Spasic's wife, Mirjana, was 53 when she died two years ago after years of smoking.

His lawsuit alleges Imperial Tobacco Ltd. and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc. knew cigarettes were hazardous but deliberately deceived the public and destroyed documents proving the companies were aware of the dangers.

The tobacco makers successfully attacked the claim in a lower court, arguing the right to sue over the alleged destruction of documents did not exist in law.

The appeal court, however, rejected that argument, parting company with earlier court rulings that tended to support the tobacco makers' view.

"The very few Canadian cases which have considered the question are far from definitive," the court said.

The decision sets the stage for delving into the document-shredding policies of the tobacco makers and whether evidence was shipped offshore, said Andreas Seibert, one of Spasic's lawyers.

"Now we're going to be able to fully pursue all evidence concerning the defendants' destruction policies and that of their affiliate companies," he said.

Steven Sofer, a lawyer representing Rothmans, Benson and Hedges, said he thinks the company will seek leave to appeal Friday's decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

It flies in the face of rulings from the British Columbia Court of Appeal, Ontario's Divisional Court and several U.S. courts, which said claims arising out of document destruction don't constitute a "reasonable cause of action," he said.

(Toronto Star)

 ProQuest document ID: 381034171 Text Word Count 310

Supreme Court gives green light for smoker's suit to go to trial:

[Ontario Edition] Tonda MacCharles. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.:Mar 23, 2001. p. NE06

The Supreme Court of Canada paved the way yesterday for a Burlington, Ont., man's lawsuit against big tobacco on behalf of his wife who died of lung cancer.

In denying leave to appeal to Imperial Tobacco Limited and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges, the high court allows Ljubisa Spasic to go to trial with his claims the cigarette makers produced an addictive, dangerous and inherently defective product that caused his wife's disease, and wilfully destroyed documents that would prove his case.

Spasic's lawsuit asks a judge to find the alleged intentional destruction of evidence is a separate wrongful act, for which the tobacco companies ought to incur punitive damages.

Although the companies have not yet filed a defence to the lawsuit the only one filed by an individual in Ontario a lawyer said yesterday they deny there was any destruction of documents or evidence.

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled last summer the question ought to be fully explored by a trial judge. If Spasic succeeds, his lawsuit will break new legal ground in Canadian tort law.

His lawyer, Andreas Seibert, called the Supreme Court's decision a victory.

"It goes a long way toward discouraging wrongdoers from engaging in schemes to destroy evidence of their own wrongdoing because they may draw punitive damages," said Seibert.

Steven Sofer, lawyer for Rothmans, Benson and Hedges, disagreed on the ruling's significance, saying the court was merely reluctant to intervene at this stage, when the matter hasn't yet been explored at trial.

"I don't think there's any message to be taken from this," said Sofer. "This is just the first inning of a nine-inning game."

Mirjana Spasic, a smoker for about 20 years, was 53 when she died in February, 1998, of lung cancer. She began the lawsuit, which claims $1 million in compensatory damages before she died, and her husband is continuing it on behalf of her estate. The claim also seeks unspecified punitive damages. Canadian courts tend to limit punitive damages, with the highest awards running around $1 million.

In addition to her lawsuit, Seibert's firm is handling an effort to certify a class-action lawsuit against the big tobacco companies on behalf of Ontario smokers, one of three class-action efforts in Canada. Seibert says it could affect 2.5 million Ontario smokers, while the tobacco companies estimate there could potentially be more than 6 million affected.

Arguments whether to certify the Ontario class action are to be heard in the fall. The other two class action suits against big tobacco are based in Quebec, and are at an even more preliminary stage.

1 ProQuest document ID: 425704091 Text Word Count 431

Judge tells tobacco firms to stop stalling

Jane Gadd. The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ont.:Mar 3, 2003. p. A.2

Months before her death from lung cancer, Mirjana Spasic sat in a wheelchair in the tiny basement rec room of her Burlington home and endured three weeks of examination and cross-examination by a dozen lawyers.

The 53-year-old hair stylist and needlepoint enthusiast was succumbing fast to the damage wrought by her lifelong cigarette habit, and she wanted to make sure the companies that made and marketed cigarettes would be held to account.

"It was like something out of a John Grisham novel," her lawyer, Andreas Seibert, says. "She was very ill and we had to preserve her evidence for trial."

So each day of that period in May, 1997, Mr. Seibert would drive from Toronto to Ms. Spasic's home and join the battalion of tobacco company lawyers who rode down in limousines for the videotaped sessions.

Now, nearly six years after her lawsuit was launched and five years after she died, Ms. Spasic has won a victory from the grave.

An Ontario Superior Court judge has told Imperial Tobacco Ltd. and Rothmans Benson & Hedges Inc. to stop stalling her case with pointless motions and has shot down the companies' attempts to force her lawyer to do the impossible -- to document what Ms. Spasic's lawsuit alleges, the shredding of files containing health-hazard information about tobacco and the firms' efforts to conceal it from the public.

"The plaintiff could not know particulars of document destruction and retention policies," Mr. Justice Lloyd Brennan ruled. "If [Ms. Spasic's claims] are untrue, the time has come [for the companies] to deny them in a statement of defence."

Although Canadian law has not previously recognized the civil tort of spoliation, or evidence destruction, Judge Brennan ruled that it is time to do so in Ms. Spasic's case.

The ruling, on one of dozens of technical motions brought by the companies that have bogged down the lawsuit's progress, has much wider significance than just this case, Garfield Mahood of the Non-Smokers Rights Association said.

If the trial judge finds that tobacco firms deliberately concealed this evidence, "it will open the door to governments to finally regulate this rogue industry in a meaningful way," he said.

The tobacco companies can ask for leave to appeal the decision to the Divisional Court, and a lawyer for Rothmans said yesterday the firm was considering it.

"The company was obviously disappointed with the result," lawyer Steven Sofer said.

The tobacco firms have 20 days to file a statement of defence.

Ms. Spasic's lawsuit alleges that Imperial Tobacco and Rothmans Benson & Hedges misled smokers about the health dangers of smoking and engaged in an elaborate coverup of what they knew from the 1950s on in order to avoid liability.

It says countless medical research documents about the addictive qualities of nicotine and the link between smoking and cancer were shredded, along with company policies and directives and lists of destroyed documents.

The Ontario Court of Appeal had already ruled -- in July, 2000 -- that Ms. Spasic's claim could include these allegations without first having to prove them.

Then an Ontario Superior Court judge struck out these allegations, ruling that they violated the rules of civil procedure.

Judge Brennan's ruling overturned that decision.

ProQuest document ID: 1059225061 Text Word Count 534

 

 

 

 


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