* U.S. high court deciding whether to tackle cell lawsuit
* Hundreds of cases could be impacted -- plaintiff lawyer
* Activity comes amid fresh WHO report on health risks
By Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court is
considering the fate of litigation against cell phone makers
over safety risks, just as the industry comes under more
scrutiny in the wake of a health report from the World Health
A working group of WHO cancer experts suggested Tuesday
that cell phone use should be classified as "possibly
carcinogenic" after reviewing of all the available scientific
The classification puts mobile phone use in the same broad
cancer risk category as lead, chloroform and coffee, and it
garnered extensive media coverage. Industry groups immediately
sought to play down the announcement, saying it does not mean
that cell phones cause cancer.
The report comes as a proposed class action lawsuit against
19 defendants, mostly cell phone manufacturers and
telecommunications companies, has landed at the U.S. Supreme
Court. The defendants -- which include Nokia, AT&T Inc and
Samsung Electronics Co Ltd -- are accused of misrepresenting
that their cell phones are safe, when they in fact knew of
A lower appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, saying the
plaintiffs' claims were preempted by federal law. But
Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court formally asked the U.S. Justice
Department to weigh in on whether the high court should hear
the plaintiffs' appeal.
Allison Zieve, who represents the plaintiffs, said people
often dismiss allegations about the harm of common products as
"silly." The WHO report could change that perception, said
Zieve, director of Public Citizen Litigation Group, a consumer
"I hope that it signals to the Justice Department ... that
it's a potentially significant case and they should take it
seriously," she said.
An AT&T spokesman declined to answer questions about the
case and representatives from Nokia and Samsung did not respond
to a request for comment.
The lawsuit seeks damages and an injunction, including a
requirement that the companies provide headsets to customers.
Joanne Suder, a Baltimore-based plaintiff attorney, said
she had "hundreds" of cell phone cases on hold pending the U.S.
Supreme Court's actions in the coming months. Her clients are
seeking monetary damages, Suder said.
Paul Freehling, who represents the Cellular
Telecommunications Industry Association, said he does not know
of any cases where a court has found sufficient scientific
evidence of a link between cell phones and cancer.
In one case, a U.S. appeals court upheld the dismissal of a
lawsuit against Motorola in 2003, finding that the plaintiffs
could not demonstrate that cell phones caused malignant brain
"Based on previous assessments of the scientific evidence,
the Federal Communications Commission has concluded that
'here's no scientific evidence that proves that wireless phone
usage can lead to cancer,"' said CTIA vice president John Walls
But Suder forecast that, after this week, reports about the
dangers of cell phone will only increase.
"I think at this point the genie is finally out of the
bottle," she added.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; editing by Andre Grenon)
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