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Appeals Court Revives Cell Phone Cancer Cases

Nov 11, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Cell phone lawsuits alleging that radiation from the devices can  cause brain cancer have been given new life.   According to, the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court decision that found that cell phone cancer lawsuits were preempted by federal law.

The decision came in a case called Murray v. Motorola, and involves Verizon, Motorola, AT&T, Sprint, Nokia and other cell phone providers.  The plaintiffs had claimed that they or their loved ones suffered illness, including brain cancer, as a result of the use of cell phones manufactured, sold or distributed by the defendants.  They also alleged that defendants have long been aware of numerous studies revealing that radio frequency radiation from cell phones can cause tissue destruction, a precursor to cancer.

According to, in 2007, Judge Cheryl Long of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia dismissed the suits, reasoning that the claims, which were made based on D.C. law, were pre-empted by the Federal Communications Act of 1996.  

Last month, the D.C. Court of Appeals overturned part of Judge Long's ruling  While the appeals court ruled that plaintiffs could not pursue claims that they were injured by phones which met the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) emissions standards, it ruled that  personal injury claims were not pre-empted if they were based on phones that were either built before 1996, when the FCC purportedly began applying its radiation limits to cell phones, or failed to meet the commission's requirements.   According to, the ruling also allows plaintiffs to continue their claims under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act that the companies had lied or omitted information about potential safety issues.

According to,  the ruling could lead to the filing of even more suits against cell phone companies in Washington's trial court.  

The ruling comes at a time when concerns over the possible health consequences of cell phone use are growing. Last month, we reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) would soon be publishing the results of its groundbreaking Interphone study. A preliminary analysis of the WHO study’s data found a “significantly increased risk” of some brain tumors “related to use of mobile phones for a period of 10 years or more.” The Interphone project conducted studies in 13 countries, interviewing tumor sufferers and people in good health to see whether their use phone use differed. Interviews were conducted with 12,800 people between 2000 and 2004.

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