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High Court Won't Hear Wireless Radiation Appeal
Journalist: Jeremy Pelofsky
October 31, 2005

Class-action lawsuits against wireless telephone providers and manufacturers over radiation emissions will be able to go forward, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by the companies.

The high court rejected hearing an appeal by companies like Nokia and Cingular Wireless challenging a decision by a U.S. appeals court that reinstated the lawsuits that argued manufacturers knew about and hid the risks of radiation emissions wireless phones posed to users.

Wireless phones are radios that emit frequency radiation and in the United States the Federal Communications Commission must approve any device that sends out such radiation.

Exposure to high levels of radiation can cause adverse health effects, but it is less clear the impact on a wireless phone user who is exposed to low levels of radiation when a phone is held to an ear directly.

Health advocates have expressed concerns about radiation causing problems ranging from headaches to tumors. But the wireless industry has pointed to U.S. government statements that scientific evidence so far has not shown any health problems associated with wireless phone use.

Five class-action lawsuits were filed in state courts seeking damages, including money for wireless users to buy a headset or reimburse those who had already had purchased one.

A U.S. district court judge dismissed the five lawsuits on the grounds that state regulation of wireless phone emissions was preempted by the FCC, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit overturned that decision and reinstated the cases.

"The court was satisfied that the issues had been treated responsibly by the Fourth Circuit," said Harley Thomas Howell, a lawyer at Howell & Gately who represents those who sued the manufacturers.

Nokia spokeswoman Arja Suominen said the company was disappointed by the decision, but declined further comment. Cingular, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, declined to comment.

The wireless industry is worried about being required to adhere to numerous different emissions requirements imposed by states, something the service providers and manufacturers argue would wreak havoc on the industry and consumers.

"This court's intervention is necessary to prevent the balkanization of network standards ... which will, if uncorrected, undermine the ability of consumers to use an FCC-approved wireless telephone in every state of the union," they said in their appeal to the court.

Other companies that joined in the appeal include Motorola Inc. and Qualcomm Inc. Cingular Wireless is a joint venture of BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc.

As a result of the top court's action, one lawsuit will go forward in federal court while the four other lawsuits will advance in state court.

Nokia shares closed up 53 cents, or 3.25 percent, to $16.82 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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