Cell-phone makers already fighting personal injury lawsuits filed by a neurologist claiming his mobile phone caused his brain cancer now will face a Baltimore attorney who achieved legal fame with victories over asbestos manufacturers and tobacco companies.
Peter Angelos filed class-action lawsuits against Motorola Inc., Verizon Wireless Inc. and 23 other wireless companies in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York on Thursday, charging that the companies knew of health risks, including the possibility of brain tumours, to cell-phone users, but failed to warn them. The lawsuits seek to require the companies to provide free earpieces for every cell phone, reimbursement for the cost of an earpiece for those who bought one, and unspecified punitive damages.
The suits do not allege that cell phones absolutely cause brain cancer, but contend that manufacturers have known of health risks, but have done nothing to address them.
“We think this is a serious matter, and that something should be done about it,” said Russell Smouse, a lawyer in Angelos’ firm who is pursuing the case.
Mobile-phone antennae produce non-ionizing radio-frequency (RF) energy, the same kind of radiation used in microwave ovens. RF energy of sufficient levels can harm living tissue by heating it to the point of causing damage. However, cell phones produce only six-tenths of a watt of RF energy, several orders of magnitude below that of a microwave oven.
The lawsuits contend that even this much radiation so close to a cell-phone user’s head is potentially dangerous, charging that the manufacturers and service providers chose not to mitigate the risk by providing headsets with every phone.
Angelos has asked that the suits be certified as a class action, which would permit any cell-phone users in the U.S. to join the suit as a plaintiff. The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association trade group estimates 117 million people in the U.S. use cell phones.
Angelos may need to draw from such a large body of potential plaintiffs in order to find brain cancer victims. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about six new cases of brain cancer occur per 100,000 people. FDA studies have shown no increase in the rate of brain cancer occurrences among cell-phone users. Based on that lack of increased occurrence and using the estimated 117 million U.S. cell-phone users, about 7,000 cell-phone users could be expected to have brain cancer nationwide.
The suit was filed on behalf of two plaintiffs, neither of which have health problems related to cell-phone use, Smouse said. But the plaintiffs want headsets as a preventative measure. In January, Angelos also joined the lawsuit of Christopher Newman; a Baltimore-area neurologist who claims his frequent wireless phone use caused his brain tumour.
The FDA has found no clear connection between cell phone use and the risk of brain cancer Angelos claims, although the regulatory body has said studies to date have been inconclusive and recommended additional research.
“Obviously this is a new subject, but we’ve been proactive in providing consumers with information both in our stores and on our Web site,” said Nancy Stark, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless Inc. While not commenting directly on the content of the suit, she noted that all cell phones sold by Verizon meet radiation standards set by the FDA and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.
A Motorola spokesperson was not available to comment.