Each Friday we highlight the week’s Engle progeny cases and look ahead to next week.
Annie Bishop admits to divorcing her second husband for three days in order to claim social security benefits as the widow of her first husband, Robert Ramsey, but says Social Security Administration officials approved the action. Click here if you're unable to watch the clip.
By Arlin Crisco
On Thursday afternoon, Judge Robert Egan denied the defense’s motion to allow the jury to hear evidence they contended established that plaintiff Annie Bishop perjured herself to receive Social Security death benefits for Robert Ramsey, the smoker at the heart of Bishop’s suit.
In proffered testimony, Bishop detailed the circumstances surrounding her three-day divorce in 2002 from her second husband, Jim Bishop. However, Judge Egan refused to admit the information into evidence, finding the matter was not sufficiently relevant to Bishop's Engle suit. “I think it’s just collateral to the issues in this case,” Egan said.
Annie Bishop is suing R.J. Reynolds, Liggett Group, Lorillard, and Phillip Morris, claiming her first husband Robert Ramsey’s 1992 lung cancer death was caused by his addiction to cigarettes. However, at the conclusion of Bishop’s direct examination, defense counsel sought to admit evidence that Annie Bishop had lied about the reason for her divorce from a second husband, Jim Bishop, in order to obtain Social Security benefits as Ramsey's widow. “This witness has admitted to perjury in this very courtroom,” Philip Morris attorney Kathleen Gallagher told Judge Egan, referring to the fact that Annie's divorce from Jim Bishop had been heard in the same courtroom of this Engle trial.
In her 2002 divorce filing Annie Bishop affirmed that her marriage to Jim was "irretrievably broken." Three days after the divorce was final, and she became eligible for widow’s benefits, Annie Bishop remarried Jim.
In testimony as part of the defense’s proffer, Annie Bishop maintained that she filed for divorce on the advice of Social Security Administration officials. “They said I was entitled to it, and that there was nothing wrong with what I was doing. I had no intent to dupe the court in any way," Bishop said. "I did it based on what I was told to do.”
When asked whether she truly believed her marriage to Jim Bishop was irretrievably broken as she affirmed in her divorce petition, Annie Bishop answered repeatedly that she lived apart from her husband when she filed for divorce.
During direct testimony earlier, Annie Bishop described her 31-year marriage to Robert Ramsey, as well as his 1-2-pack a day smoking habit and his attempts to quit. “He would try to stop cold turkey, but it ended up being within about 2 or three days he was irritable. If the kids would say anything, he would get upset with them, “Bishop said. “He was not himself.”
Robert Ramsey was diagnosed with lung cancer six months before his 1992 death. Bishop described the bout with lung cancer, including a six-week hospital stay, and said doctors told Robert that he could live up to a year. “But what happened was with the radiation and chemo, it didn’t buy him any more time. He still died in six months,” Bishop said. “It took the quality (of life) away. He may have had quantity but there was no quality.”
Next week: The defense is expected to deliver its case-in-chief next week.
On Thursday, Helen Taylor maintained that she didn’t know exactly how long she had smoked R.J. Reynolds cigarettes, as RJR’s defense highlighted what they claimed were inconsistencies in statements about her smoking history.
During direct testimony this week, Taylor told jurors that she believed she had smoked Winston cigarettes, made by RJR, for about half of her smoking life. However, on cross-examination, the defense sought to highlight her prior statements that she had only smoked the cigarettes for 10 years, from 1962-1972. “If you say I did, I’ll take your word for it but I do not know the dates,” Taylor responded. “I always felt pushed into giving a date. That question has been asked to me numerous time, and I kept telling them I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
A key to RJR’s defense is its contention that Taylor’s decade of smoking its cigarettes during her nearly 50-year smoking history was not enough to cause her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. After Taylor's direct testimony RJR contended that Taylor had admitted to smoking Winston cigarettes for 10 years when Philip Morris was a defendant but has now changed her story since Taylor settled with Morris.
In sustaining an objection to references concerning Taylor’s claim against Philip Morris, Judge Russell Healey said he believed Taylor’s arguably inconsistent statements were the result of a poor memory rather than a tactical decision. “I don’t see that there is any motivation to change (her smoking history) up in an effort to make her claim against Reynolds better,” Healey said.
Earlier in the week, plaintiff's counsel sought to establish the link between Taylor's smoking and her COPD. On Tuesday, Dr. Stephen Bagnoli, a pulmonary specialist who treated Helen Taylor for three years, said there was “no question” that her smoking caused her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Bagnoli detailed medical records stretching back to mid-1996 and his own treatment history of Taylor, which he said showed her COPD had progressively worsened. Bagnoli told jurors that Taylor will need both regular medication and hospitalization for the rest of her life. “Unless she were to die, she will absolutely require recurrent hospitalizations as she has demonstrated over the years, and I would estimate 2-3 (hospitalizations) a year, most likely,” Bagnoli said.
However, on cross-examination, Bagnoli acknowledged that records before and after the Engle cutoff date indicated Taylor had asthma, which is not a covered disease for purposes of Engle class membership. Nonetheless, Bagnoli maintained that two pulmonary function tests in the 1990s showed Taylor suffered from COPD rather than asthma.
Next week: The defense is expected to begin its case-in-chief next week.