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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. of Canada must pay more than $7.7 million to a snowmobile dealership here, a judge has ruled.

Hi-Tech Motor Sports Inc. sued after Bombardier in March 2001 suddenly terminated its relationship with Hi-Tech and removed all of its Ski-Doo snowmobiles.

The Canadian multinational corporation manufactures snowmobiles, ATV's, personal watercraft, locomotives and Lear Jets.

After a six-day trial in Yellowstone County, a jury found that Hi-Tech had suffered $7.26 million in damages when Bombardier suddenly terminated its Ski-Doo snowmobile dealership, the Billings Gazette reported Sunday.

Attorney fees in the five-year lawsuit account for the difference between the $7.26 million sought in damages and District Judge G. Todd Baugh's judgment last Thursday of $7.7 million.

"It's huge for Yellowstone County. It's certainly is one of the largest I've heard of in my 23 years of practicing law," Don Harris, co-counsel for Hi-Tech Motors, told the Gazette.

Montana has a Dealer Protection Act that says a dealership agreement cannot be canceled unless the state Department of Motor Vehicles decides that the supplier, in this case Bombardier, has good cause.

The 1972 act passed by many states initially protected only auto dealers. In 1999, the Montana law was amended to include dealers in power sports equipment.

Harris says the protection laws were passed in the days when dealers were required to make heavy investments to carry product lines, but often were given only yearlong contracts that could be easily canceled. That arrangement left the dealer economically vulnerable.

Bombardier attorneys argued that the protection statute only applies when the dealer is unlawfully terminated and has to go out of business.

"If they had prevailed, approximately 80 to 90 percent of all dealers in Montana would have been stripped of their protections," Harris said.

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