By Jeffrey Silva
May 30, 2007
WASHINGTON—A federal judicial panel has conditionally remanded a brain cancer lawsuit and class action headset lawsuit against mobile phone companies to courts in Florida and Pennsylvania respectively.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake of Baltimore earlier this month recommended to the Judicial Panel on Mulitdistrict Litigation that the brain cancer lawsuit—Louther v. AT&T Inc.—return to federal court in Florida and the headset lawsuit—Farina v. Nokia Corp. et al.—be sent back to a federal court in Pennsylvania.
Mobile phone industry defendants in both cases have less than two weeks to oppose the remanding decisions. If the JPML affirms its May 24 conditional remand, there is likely to be a new round of legal sparring over whether the two suits should stay in federal court or return to state courts where they were originally filed several years ago.
That Blake cleared her plate of the two remaining health-related wireless lawsuits is a setback for the cellular industry, which convinced the federal judge to throw out an $800 million brain cancer lawsuit against Motorola Inc. and others in 2002 and five class action headset lawsuits in early 2003. Christopher Newman, the plaintiff in the brain cancer lawsuit whose case failed to go to trial after Blake ruled scientific evidence was lacking, died in May 2006. The Farina lawsuit seeks to force cellular operators to supply consumers with hands-free headsets to reduce their exposure to phone radiation and to compensate consumers who have already purchased headsets.
Meantime, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia may be getting closer to deciding whether six brain cancer lawsuits against the mobile phone industry will go forward or be dismissed. Wireless firms asked the court to throw out the cases in 2004.
Government health authorities in the United States and other countries say research to date does not point to a link between cellphone use and cancer, but they add that more investigation is needed to address studies showing biological effects—adverse or otherwise—from mobile phone radiation.
The Food and Drug Administration has legal jurisdiction over mobile phone safety, though the wireless industry is bound by human exposure limits established by government and industry experts and subsequently adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.