07/23/2015 06:15 EDT | Updated 07/23/2016 05:59 EDT

Big tobacco companies not required to deposit $1B, Court of Appeal rules

The Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of three big tobacco companies, saying that they are not required to immediately deposit $1 billion plus punitive damages in a trust account for members of a class action lawsuit.

In June, a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that the three tobacco companies — Imperial Tobacco, Rothmans Benson & Hedges and JTI-MacDonald — owed $15 billion in damages to Quebec smokers who either became addicted to cigarettes or who became gravely ill from smoking.

The judge who heard the two merged class action lawsuits, which was touted as the biggest civil case in Canadian history, ruled that the companies would have 60 days to deposit $1B plus damages in a trust account — regardless of whether or not they would appeal the verdict.

The provisional amount was to ensure that those who became ill due to smoking would benefit while an appeal, which would take years, wound through the legal system. 

But on Thursday afternoon, Quebec's highest court ruled that the reasons the trial judge gave to justify why the tobacco giants should set that money aside were inadequate.

"We consider the justification for a provisional execution weak," the ruling said.

Now the tobacco companies await a decision regarding an appeal of the verdict that orders them to pay $15.6 billion in punitive and moral damages to more than one million Quebecers.