South Florida

Tobacco giant defeats suit brought by family of Bay of Pigs veteran

A Miami jury sided with R.J. Reynolds Tuesday against the family of a former Bay of Pigs prisoner who smoked for five decades then died of emphysema at age 87.

The jury of six ruled the tobacco giant was not responsible for the October 2005 death of Renato Santos, who had quit cigarettes when he was diagnosed with emphysema in 1990. The product liability case, first filed by the Santos family on Jan. 9, 2008, had sought $16 million.

Santos started smoking as a teen in Cuba and became a pack-and-a half a day Pall Mall smoker, said the family’s lawyer Austin Carr. “The jury found that he was not addicted, I believe, principally because he never attempted to quit until he was diagnosed,” the lawyer said.

The suit was the latest in a series seeking damages following a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision, Engle v. Liggett Group, which threw out a $145 billion class-action verdict against cigarette makers and set the stage for individuals to sue.

Carr described the smoker as a Bay of Pigs veteran who left Cuba months before the ill-fated April 1961 invasion, trained in Central America and then invaded his island. He was held prisoner until the United States exchanged food and medicine for the men in December 1962. In Miami, he had 10 children, Carr said, and worked as a carpenter on yacht interiors.

At the trial, which started last week, the family stipulated that Santos was partly at fault. In July, Circuit Court Judge Peter Lopez ruled for the tobacco company that Santos was to some degree responsible “less than 100 percent ... for causing his smoking-related injuries.” Carr said Tuesday that his side argued “it takes a smoker and a cigarette maker, and we believe that R.J. Reynolds should have had some percentage of fault in the case. They made the dangerous product that they asked their customers to smoke.”

Rebeca Santos, the dead smoker’s daughter, brought the case on behalf of her 84-year-old mother, whom Carr said does not speak English but attended the trial.

He argued that Santos became a smoker at a time when it was common. “Doctors smoked. Nurses smoked. Patients smoked in the hospital,” he told the jury. “It was a completely different culture back in those days.”

Related stories from Miami Herald