Sun, Jul 15, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Court denies Philip Morris access to patient data

POSSIBLE DAMAGES:The company had argued that having access to patients’ data, including medical costs and drug use, was critical to its ability to defend itself

AFP, OTTAWA

US cigarette maker Philip Morris International Inc on Friday suffered a setback in a long-running lawsuit when the Canadian Supreme Court denied it access to personal data on people with tobacco-related diseases.

Since 2001, British Columbia has been fighting a legal battle against 14 tobacco companies — including Rothmans International PLC, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co and Philip Morris — seeking reimbursement for the costs of providing healthcare for people with such illnesses.

The provincial appeals court had upheld a lower court decision siding with Philip Morris’ argument that access to the personal data of affected patients was critical to the company’s ability to defend itself.

Philip Morris sought access to databases regarding patients in British Columbia from 1991 to 2011, including on their medical costs and prescription drug use, the Supreme Court said in its judgement.

The nine high-court justices voted unanimously to overturn the rulings of the two lower courts.

Justice Russell Brown, writing for the court, said the case had not reached the point where production of the documents was necessary.

Philip Morris’ expressions of concern about “trial fairness are premature,” Brown added.

The ruling would have an impact far beyond British Columbia, because other Canadian provinces have filed identical lawsuits against the tobacco companies.

Together, the provincial governments are seeking C$120 billion (US$91.09 billion) from cigarette makers, local media have reported.

Rob Cunningham, a lawyer with the Canadian Cancer Society, welcomed the ruling as an important step in keeping the legal process moving.

“The objective of the tobacco industry is to delay the start of this trial,” he said. “They don’t want to have to pay tens of billions of dollars in damages.”

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