Widow Loses Legal Battle Against Dubek Tobacco

She pledges to take case to Supreme Court, pressing for tobacco company to take responsibility in husband's death after struggle with lung cancer.

Yaniv Kubovich
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A woman whose husband died of lung cancer is appealing to the Supreme Court after she was ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels in court costs imposed to the Dubek tobacco company.  Tel Aviv District Court rejected her lawsuit against  Dubek, which she blames for the death of her husband, a heavy smoker of the company’s Time cigarettes.

The plaintiff sued Dubek in 2007 for 9 million shekels on the advice of several friends, who noted that there was a direct connection between smoking and the lung cancer that killed her husband.

During the lengthy legal proceedings the woman changed lawyers twice until, unable to afford their fees, she fired them and represented herself against Dubek’s battery of corporate attorneys.

Aware that a ruling was near, on July 16 the woman called the courts administration to ask about the date and time of the final court session. She was shocked to discover that it had been held two days earlier, and that Judge Dalia Ganot had rejected her suit and fined her 120,000 shekels for court expenses and an additional 350,000 shekels to cover Dubek’s legal fees, or a total of around $130,000.

The plaintiff’s absence from the court was one reason the fine was so high, with the judge referring to the woman’s “contempt of court.” The source of the miscommunication regarding the court date is unclear.

The woman was so distraught over the news that later that evening she called the Eran emotional first-aid hotline. She related her story to the volunteer and said she’d probably have to sell her apartment to pay the fine, adding, “I want to die.” Eran had a police dispatcher send a patrol car to the woman’s home and persuaded her to call her two daughters so that they could calm her down.

One daughter is doing her compulsory army service, while the other is a college student with a part-time job at a wireless provider call center.

Dubek recently approached the Bailiff’s Office to open a file against the woman, whose debt, with penalties for nonpayment, has ballooned to 580,000 shekels.

Now the woman is trying to appeal the ruling through attorney Shlomi Hadar. In the request for appeal, Hadar noted that the woman had sought to determine her court date, which proves she was not in contempt of court.

“The lower court erred in its determination, because the reason for [the woman’s] absence was not clarified,” he wrote. “The lower court erred when it imposed on the appellants – a woman and two young orphans who with the loss of their father were left without a primary breadwinner – a huge sum of half a million shekels for expenses and legal fees, which is liable to bring about their total economic collapse.”

The largest lawsuit against tobacco companies in Israel was a 7.6 billion shekel class-action suit brought in 1998 by Clalit Health Services against several tobacco companies, demanding compensation for the costs it was incurring treating the illnesses caused by smoking. After 13 years the suit was rejected by the Supreme Court on appeal, but the court only imposed 30,000 shekels of expenses on Clalit, which makes the judgment against the widow and her daughters seem disproportionate.

Duty-free cigarettes on sale at Ben-Gurion Airport.Credit: David Bachar