In what various legal observers have called a “landmark” decision, the Supreme Court of Italy recently upheld a lower court decision linking a business executive’s brain tumor to his significant cell phone use. While the available science and research has largely rejected the likelihood of such a causal connection, this decision could open the proverbial “flood gates” for cell phone and brain tumor-related litigation. Manufacturers and suppliers of mobile phones will want to pay close attention to this decision as its impacts could be far reaching. Indeed, as reported in The Telegraph, an oncologist and professor of environmental mutagenesis who testified for the plaintiff, Angelo Gino Levis, proclaimed that “[t]he court decision is extremely important. It finally officially recognises the link…It’ll open not a road but a motorway to legal actions by victims. We’re considering a class action.”
As reported by Reuters, the Italian case involved a business executive who developed a tumor in the left side of his head after using his cell phone for 5-6 hours a day for 12 years. While on the phone, he typically held the phone in his left hand, while taking notes with his right hand. According to Reuters, the court relied on studies conducted between 2005-2009 by a group led by Lennart Hardell, a cancer specialist at the University Hospital in Orebro in Sweden. The court said the research was independent and “not co-financed by the same companies that produce mobile telephones”.
Despite the Court’s ruling, many health experts remain unconvinced of a link between cell phones and brain tumors. As noted in The Telegraph, a spokesman for Britain’s Health Protection Agency stated that “[t]he scientific consensus is that mobile phones do not cause cancer.” Here in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a fact sheet on cell phone use and health-related issues. According to the fact sheet, “[s]ome…studies have suggested the possibility that long-term, high cell phone use may be linked to certain types of brain cancer. These studies do not establish this link definitively. Scientists will need to conduct more studies to learn more about this possible risk.” Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published a consumer health bulletin entitled “No Evidence Linking Cell Phone Use to Risk of Brain Tumors.” That said, in a press release published last year, the WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields “as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.”
Time will tell if the impacts of the Italian decision will be felt outside Italy. One media attorney interviewed by The Telegraph said the verdict could “open the floodgates” in Britain despite the fact that there is no requirement that British courts follow the Italian’s lead. Here in the United States, a quick Internet search reflects at least one plaintiff law firm discussing the Italian decision and citing it as support for cell phone radiation lawsuits. We will continue to monitor this issue and report any notable developments.