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Cancer scare hits cell firms
December 28, 2000: 10:33 a.m. ET

Report: Mobile phone firms face billion-dollar lawsuit over tumor cases
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LONDON (CNNfn) - Mobile phone companies are facing a billion-dollar lawsuit from brain tumor victims in the United States, a report said Thursday.

Lawyer Peter Angelos, who helped win $4.2 billion in damages from the tobacco industry in Maryland, plans to launch 10 claims against the industry, the Times of London said.

The action comes amid concerns among some mobile phone users that radiation from handsets could cause brain cancer, though medical evidence has been unable to prove a definitive link so far.

Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. cellular operator, a joint venture between Vodafone Group PLC (VOD) and Verizon Communications (VZ: Research, Estimates), will be named in nearly all of the actions.

"There is no real evidence of any link but we can see more claims in coming years as cases increase," Per Lindberg, an analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, told The British Medical Association warned earlier this year "that children are more likely to suffer from radiation."

John A. Pica, an attorney at Angelos's law firm, told the newspaper: "If these companies knew about the dangers of cell phone radiation they should be punished and they should be punished dearly: not only for what they did in public, but for the billions of pounds of profits made."

Vodafone, which owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless, said British government sponsored research published this year gave showed there was no link between mobile phone use and brain tumors.

"The Stewart report, the most comprehensive report of its kind so far, gave mobile handsets and base stations a clean bill of health. But the link is something we can never disprove. We need more research." Vodafone told The Times.

A recent study in the United States indicated that though there was some cause for concern in the potential for cell phone usage to cause illness, there was no clear link between the devices and an increased incidence of cancer.

Vodafone's Mike Caldwell criticized the newspaper report as sensationalist and told CNNfn: "This is the most blatantly misleading headline of the year."

He said Vodafone is not involved in any current litigation in the U.S. and is unlikely to be so as it does not trade there. "Vodafone is a shareholder of Verizon Communications only, and as such will not be the target of a US lawsuit," claimed Caldwell.

Angelos' firm earned nearly $1 billion in fees from the Maryland tobacco settlement, and plans to file two claims before March and the rest within a year, according to the paper. Each claim will be filed against a mobile handset manufacturer, a mobile phone network provider and a local "land-line" telephone company.

A Maryland neurologist filed an $800 million lawsuit against handset maker Motorola Inc (MOT: Research, Estimates). in August as well as eight other telecommunications companies and organizations, claiming that his use of cell phones caused a malignant brain tumor.

John Trotter, a partner specialising in product liability at London law firm Lovells, said such cases needed an expert willing to say there was a possibility of a link. Lawyers would hope that a court would grant them access to mobile companies' documents.

"They may be hoping that discovery of documents would turn up something showing there was some sort of knowledge (of possible harm) among the product manufacturers," Trotter said.

Shares in Verizon slipped almost 1 percent to $50 and Vodafone (VOD), the world's biggest mobile phone operator, fell 2.1 percent to 232.5 pence, while Finland's Nokia, the world's biggest handset maker, rose almost 1 percent in Helsinki.

"Vodafone has been named in the article that's why its share price has been hit so hard, but Nokia has a 35 percent share of the U.S. market. So I am surprised about how hard Vodafone has been hit in relation to Nokia and other cellphone makers," Lindberg said.

Analysts expect mobile phone companies to extend the practice of placing health warnings on mobile phones, something that already happens in some U.S. states. However, Nokia told that there was no need for warnings.

"We understand the concerns of the public and welcome research into this matter," Papio Hedman, Head of Communications at Nokia, said. "We adhere to emission standards set by the authorities."

"Televisions, microwave and radios give out more radiation," Hedman said.

--from staff and wires graphic


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