Brain cancer victim sues cell-phone providers for $800 million

A Maryland neurologist filed an $800 million lawsuit this week against several wireless providers and two umbrella organizations claiming that radiation from his cell phone is responsible for his malignant brain tumor.

According to the lawsuit, Dr. Christopher Newman, 41, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1998 and can no longer work as a result of his disease.

His attorney, Joanne Suder in Baltimore, wasn't immediately available for comment. However, her office is keeping personal information about Newman private to protect her client.

The suit was filed Tuesday in Baltimore City Circuit Court, and claims that years of use of wireless handheld telephones caused Newman's cancer.

Named as defendants in the suit are Motorola Inc., Verizon Communications Corp., Bell Atlantic Corp., Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems, Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems, Washington/Baltimore Cellular, SBC Communications INC., the Cellular Telecommunication Industry Association (CTIA) and the Telecommunication Industry Association. The suit seeks $100 million in compensatory damages and $700 million in punitive damages.

Norman Sandler, Motorola's director of global strategic issues, said he's aware of the lawsuit, but hasn't been officially notified.

"The issues aren't new, the claim isn't new," Sandler said. "The assertion at the core of this is groundless and unsubstantiated by the science."

There have been a "handful" of similar lawsuits before this, he said, but none would support Newman's claims.

"One by one they have slowly but surely been dismissed by the courts or withdrawn by the plaintiffs," Sandler said, and none of the suits was settled out of court.

"It is an area that has been heavily researched for more than 50 years," he said, and the newer uses of radio frequency radiation, like wireless communications, have undergone heavy scrutiny in the past 10 years.

"The fundamental scientific judgments certainly haven't changed."

The lawsuit came one day after Dr. George Carlo, a public health researcher, released a summary of research in which he raised questions about the safety of cell phone use.

Carlo's research found radio frequency radiation from wireless phone antennae "appears to cause genetic damage in human blood," while another case study uncovered a "statistically significant increase" in neuro-epithelial brain tumors among cell phone users (see story).

Carlo had been hired by the CTIA to oversee research on the effects of cellular telephone radiation, at a cost of $27 million. The CTIA has since disavowed Carlo and his conclusions, and at least one of his researchers has publicly disagreed with Carlo's conclusions.

Dr. Henry Lai, a researcher in the Bioelectromagnetics Research Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle, said there is preliminary evidence that cell phone radiation has an effect on animal cells, but the evidence is far from conclusive.

"Biological changes do not always become health hazards to humans. Of course there's a question there." Lai said, but without having done studies on humans, "I don't know."

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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