Dying Australian smoker wins landmark suit against tobacco company
MELBOURNE, Australia - A woman dying of lung cancer has become the first Australian smoker to win a lawsuit against an international tobacco company.
A six-member Victorian Supreme Court jury ordered London-based British American Tobacco to pay 51-year-old Rolah Ann McCabe 710,000 Australian dollars (dlrs 376,000) on Thursday.
The multinational cigarette maker must also pay her legal costs.
McCabe was diagnosed with the disease in 1999. She was awarded the money for pain and suffering as well as medical and home care expenses and loss of earnings.
Physicians earlier testified that she would probably die before the end of the year.
The company said in a statement that it would appeal the decision.
"We believe we will be successful in the appeal," the company said, adding that it would decline to comment further.
Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Eames criticized the company and its lawyers for destroying and hiding documents relevant to the case.
He said a company policy known as "document retention" begun in 1985 "was to provide a means of destroying damaging documents under the cover of an apparently innocent housekeeping arrangement."
Outside the court, McCabe said the company had lied about the effects of smoking, which she had taken up as a child because she thought it was "cool."
"I was 12. They knew it caused cancer and they knew it was addictive," she told reporters.
"I want to say to young girls today, don't make my mistake â€” don't get sucked in by the tobacco companies."
Peter Gordon, a senior partner with law firm Slater and Gordon, said a class action on behalf of tobacco victims was again possible, and there would be many thousands of people with the same rights as McCabe.
A class action brought by Slater and Gordon was rejected by the High Court in November 2000 when tobacco companies argued the legal action was too large, and that the discovery (news - web sites) of relevant documents would be too costly.
Todd Harper, executive director of the anti-smoking campaign Quit Victoria, described the case as "a breakthrough and a landmark."
"It has major implications in Victoria, nationally and overseas," he said.