by Reily Gregson, rcrwireless.com, 16 April 2001
WASHINGTON-The law firm of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, which earlier this year took control of an $800 million mobile phone-brain cancer lawsuit, has joined forces with attorneys in a New Orleans class-action case against the wireless industry seeking to force equipment manufacturers to pay for headsets and medical monitoring for half the nation’s 112 million subscribers.
Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, overseeing the case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, signed an order in late March admitting Angelos attorneys John Pica, H. Russell Smouse and William Gately to participate in the suit.
The New Orleans law firm of Lowe, Stein, Hoffman, Allweiss & Hauver brought the case last year against Nokia Corp., Motorola Inc., Ericsson Inc., Qualcomm Inc, Radiofone Inc., Sprint Corp., BellSouth Mobility Corp. (now Cingular Wireless), Nextel Communications Inc., AT&T Corp. and NEC America. The class action, which has not been certified, could cover as many as 50 million mobile-phone subscribers in the United States.
The growing participation in wireless health litigation by the Angelos law firm-which has won massive personal injury verdicts against the asbestos and tobacco industries and is now pursuing allegations of health problems from radiation and lead paint-comes at a time when the cellular industry is witnessing a resurgence of health-related lawsuits and workers’ compensation claims by employees of mobile-phone companies.
In late March, Administrative Law Judge George Ferris granted a 120-day discovery in a California workers’ compensation case in which Sharesa Price, a former mobile-phone and two-way radio programmer for a United States Cellular Corp. agent, claims workplace radiation caused a brain tumor that has left her disabled.
“In light of the unique subject matter of this case, i.e., the effect of microwave radiation on the human body, it is my opinion that further discovery is needed,” stated Ferris.
The case, lodged against Advanced Communications Systems, is being heard by California’s Department of Industrial Relations. The state initially rejected Price’s claim, but now the case-pending before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board-has been given new life as a result of the judge’s discovery order.
“I’m appalled by how much evidence there is on this subject matter. I know so many patients who are heavy cell-phone users-that’s what’s keeping me going to tell you the truth,” said Price, a 42-year-old single mother of two young teen-age daughters whose plans to remarry were sidetracked by brain surgery in April 1999 and subsequent health problems.
“I’m happy wireless health issues are being brought forward. Earpieces and (radiation) reflectors are not enough,” said Price, who joined Advanced Communications Systems in July 1996, but had to leave in February 1999 after being diagnosed with brain cancer. Her prognosis is uncertain.
“There’s nothing in here that radiates,” said David Bohlen, owner of Advanced Communications Systems, Lakeport, Calif.
Bohlen, who said Price programmed an average of 4.02 phones a week, said doctors who examined her claim concluded she had a slow-growth tumor that began 20 years ago.
“There may be people out there with radiation problems. This is not one of them,” said Bohlen.
Bohlen is expected to give his deposition around June 1.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Cellular, which is based in Chicago, declined to comment.
Price is represented by Carl Hilliard, president of the Wireless Consumers Alliance.
“We’re going forward and we’re going forward aggressively,” said Hilliard.
Hilliard also represents Mark Hart, a former global marketing manager for San Diego-based Web phone developer NeoPoint Inc. Hart filed a workers’ compensation claim on Feb. 7 that alleges heavy use of the company mobile phone caused his brain tumor.
“We are aware of a workers’ compensation claim filed by a former employee, which has recently been denied by the Workers’ Compensation Carrier,” said NeoPoint. “Although we are very sympathetic to our former colleague’s medical condition, it is widely known that there is not a correlation between cell-phone use and brain cancer as cited in recently published studies from the National Cancer Institute and the American Health Foundation,” said Janella Bennett, director of human resources at NeoPoint.
Hart is appealing the workers’ compensation ruling
Epidemiology studies conducted by NCI and AHF, which received heavy press coverage and limited criticism, found no short-term connection between cell phones and brain cancer. But researchers were unable to conclude that a long-term link does not exist.
The mobile-phone industry points to studies by the NCI, AHF and others as evidence that cell phones are safe. But others, pointing to studies showing DNA breaks, genetic damage, memory impairment and increased tumors in lab rodents as a result of phone radiation exposure, insist the danger signs are there.
The Food and Drug Administration, which has jurisdiction over radiation-emitting devices, says scientific literature to date does not indicate phones pose a health risk. But the FDA said it cannot certify that cell phones are completely safe until further research is undertaken.
A New York federal appeals court last year upheld radio-frequency radiation exposure guidelines adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 1996. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the court’s ruling.
FDA is working with the mobile-phone industry on follow-up on research funded by wireless carriers and manufacturers. Researchers will re-run industry-funded experiments that found genetic damage in human blood exposed to mobile-phone radiation. The micronuclei discovered in studies performed by North Carolina researchers for Wireless Technology Research L.L.C., according to WTR head Dr. George Carlo, constitute an established biomarker for cancer.
The industry, which already has invested $28 million in phone-cancer research, will contract out additional research under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with FDA.
“We are very, very close,” said Jo-Anne Basile, vice president of external and industry relations for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, referring to the process of selecting scientists for mobile phone-cancer research.
This week in Cincinnati, the FDA will host a meeting to discuss future epidemiology studies on mobile- phone bioeffects.
Meanwhile, existing litigation and workers’ compensation cases are moving forward.
“Hilliard said he likely would file a personal injury lawsuit shortly in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of Gibb Brower, a landscape contractor and heavy mobile-phone user with a brain tumor.
In November 2000, Michael Murray-a former Motorola Inc. technician who tested 30 to 40 mobiles a day between 1990 and 1999 before having to leave the job because of brain cancer, filed a workers’ compensation claim with the Illinois Industrial Commission.
Elsewhere, mobile phone-cancer and other health-related lawsuits filed against the cellular industry are pending in Georgia, Illinois and Nevada. Nokia and other defendants in the Georgia brain cancer suit filed briefs last Monday challenging the allegations of Brian Barrett.
“Nokia specifically denies that there is any reliable scientific evidence of a link between cellular-phone use and the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries,” stated Nokia’s attorneys in a document filed in the Superior Court of Fulton County in Georgia on April 9.
The General Accounting Office is putting final touches on a report on wireless technology health implications. The report by GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, is due to be delivered to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in two weeks.
The GAO report, which will assess scientific research and scrutinize the CRADA, could set the tone for future wireless health policy and research funding.
Markey, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and other members of the Vermont delegation last year sponsored bills that would authorize funding for government phone-cancer research. Leahy is expected to reintroduce his bill later this year. It is unclear whether Markey will do the same.
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