Class Action Suit Filed Against Cell-Phone Makers
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, Verizon Wireless, 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 tumors, 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," says Russell Smouse, a lawyer in Angelos' firm who is pursuing the case.
Mobile-phone antennae produce non-ionizing radio-frequency 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 is asking that the suits be certified as a class action, which would permit any cell-phone users in the United States to join the suit as a plaintiff. The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association trade group estimates 117 million people in the United States 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, about six new cases of brain cancer occur per 100,000 people.
The suit was filed on behalf of two plaintiffs, neither of whom have health problems related to cell-phone use, Smouse says. 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 tumor.
The FDA has found no clear connection between cell phone use and the
risk of brain cancer that Angelos claims, although the regulatory body has said
studies to date have been inconclusive and
"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," says Nancy Stark, a spokesperson for Verizon Wireless. 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.