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Feds, Trade Groups Could Be Included In Lawsuit Umbrella
RCR News 
Journalist: Jeffrey Silva 
August 27, 2001

As cell-phone health litigation against mobile-phone carriers and manufacturers grows, plaintiffs lawyers are
considering casting a wider net that would also target trade associations, standard-setting bodies, federal agencies and individuals in lawsuits, according to sources close to lawsuits currently pending against industry. 

To date, mobile-phone manufacturers and operators have been on the receiving end of a handful of health lawsuits unsuccessfully brought against the wireless industry since 1992. But as trial lawyers learn more about the inner workings of industry trade associations, standard-setting bodies that craft mobile-phone radiation guidelines and federal regulatory agencies that oversee health and safety, the more they say greater accountability is warranted. 

Last month, a federal judge ruled the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association and the Telecommunications Industry Association are fair game as defendants in an $800 million personal injury lawsuit that Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos filed against the mobile-phone industry on behalf of 42-year-old neurologist Christopher Newman. The lawsuit, which is shaping up as the biggest legal challenge yet for industry, claims Newman's brain cancer was caused by cell-phone use. 

Through this month, industry lawyers deposed scientific experts for Newman. In September, Angelos' lawyers plan to grill industry radio-frequency radiation scientists. 

A hearing on the scientific merits of the case is set to be held in January. If Newman's lawyers pass muster, the case likely will go to trial. However, it is unclear whether the judge will allow the case to continue in federal court (which industry favors for various legal reasons) or will agree to remand the case back to state court. 

The Angelos law firm is pursuing a similar lawsuit in Georgia and is involved in several lawsuits seeking to force industry to supply mobile-phone consumers with hands-free headsets as protection against radiation injury. The lawsuits also aim to punish industry for not doing so since 1983, when cellular phone service began in the United States. 

Industry and plaintiffs lawyers argued the headset issue last Wednesday in a New Orleans court, a case key to the future of similar litigation filed in other states. 

CTIA and TIA have been named in other health-related lawsuits as well. 

Another Baltimore lawyer, Joanne Suder, is putting together a team of lawyers from around the country to drop a slew of
phone-cancer lawsuits across a large number of states in coming months. As early as fall, Suder and other lawyers also plan to file a public-interest lawsuit against various federal agencies for failing to protect consumers from alleged health risks from mobile-phone radiation. 

The prospect of a public-interest lawsuit was given a boost recently when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) signaled concern about the ability of the Federal Communications Commission, Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health to oversee phone-radiation safety. 

In a July 30 letter, the two lawmakers directed the General Accounting Office which twice has issued reports saying more research is needed to determine whether mobile phones are safe to monitor the three agencies to comply with recommendations in a May 7 report. The GAO report recommended the public be given improved access to detailed information about phone radiation and health issues generally. In addition, GAO directed the FDA and CTIA to shed public light on various aspects of a limited, industry-funded research agreement between the two parties. 

Reacting to GAO's finding that the United States conducts very little wireless health research compared to other countries, Lieberman and Markey wrote the FDA and NIH for feedback on whether additional U.S. funding of phone-cancer studies is needed. Neither agency addressed the issue directly in their written replies to the lawmakers. 

"The responses that we have received from the agencies raise our concern that the recommendations made by GAO have not been fully addressed, and will require some follow-up," stated Lieberman and Markey in the letter to GAO Comptroller General David Walker. 

The wireless industry insists studies have failed to link mobile phones to cancer, but others point to research that has found genetic damage, DNA breaks, memory impairment, eye cancer and increased incidences of brain tumors in lab animals and humans alike. 

Last month, an Illinois state judge gave preliminary approval to a partial settlement in a huge class-action lawsuit that claims mobile-phone subscribers' privacy were violated as part of an epidemiology study designed to track cancer mortality among cellular subscribers. The plaintiffs have argued industry allowed mobile phones to be marketed, despite radiation safety questions. 

In addition to mobile carriers, equipment vendors and trade associations, plaintiffs lawyers could choose to target the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the American National Standards Institute and other bodies involved in setting mobile-phone radiation standards that some say do not shield against non-thermal bioffects of phone and base station transmissions. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled voluntary standard-setting organizations can be held liable in product liability cases. 

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