A month and a half after losing its multibillion shekel smoking suit in the Supreme Court – after 13 years of legal proceedings – Clalit Health Services is not giving up. The HMO this week asked the Supreme Court for a rehearing with an extended panel of justices.

The original NIS 7.6 billion suit was filed by Clalit and was combined with a similar suit from Maccabi Health Services against Bond cigarette manufacturers and importers. The suits demanded compensation for the HMO for the costs of treating smokers. Maccabi filed its suit in 1998, claiming it had to pay the costs of treating its clients while cigarette companies continued to advertise their harmful products and hide the dangers of smoking.

Clalit warned that the recent Supreme Court decision would worsen the financial situation of the health system worse and lead to numerous suits in the courts.

The Supreme Court ruled that tobacco companies had no direct responsibility for any damage in these cases related to any one individual. The court said that the suits lacked any connection between specific people harmed by the cigarette manufacturers, and contained no details of the scale of damage done or how the companies violated their responsibilities to the plaintiffs.

But Supreme court Justice Miriam Naor wrote in her opinion that the HMOs could file different suits, such as suits seeking compensation for damage to specific individual smokers.

Just as in the United States, Israeli tobacco companies have managed to fight off attempts to make them legally responsible for the astronomical health-care costs associated with smoking. The health services are not the direct victims of cigarette manufacturers and cannot demonstrate specific harm. Furthermore, Israelis cannot file class action suits in cases of bodily harm. But the court did clear the way for individual suits and also said the Knesset is the address for such problems and new legislation is needed.

Clalit also argued in its request for a rehearing that the court contradicted the basic principles of Israeli health insurance law, saying the law involved is different from that in regular insurance cases.

In addition, Clalit said it will be necessary for individuals and the HMOs to file hundreds of thousands of suits against the cigarette manufacturers – and clog up the courts for years.

In the original case, the late District Court Judge Adi Azar ruled against Maccabi in September 1999. “Maccabi has no direct claim against the cigarette manufacturers … It is hard to say the health services are being harmed by providing the services for which they exist,” Azar wrote. Azar said HMOs are a form of medical insurer, and an insurance company cannot claim it is harmed by paying its clients.