Supreme Court rejects cell phone radiation appeal

Class action lawsuits against cell phone makers like Nokia and Cingular over radiation emissions will be able to go forward.

Class action lawsuits against cell phone makers over radiation emissions will be able to go forward, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by the companies.

The high court rejected hearing an appeal by companies like Nokia and Cingular Wireless challenging a decision by a U.S. appeals court that reinstated the lawsuits that argued manufacturers knew about and hid the risks of radiation emissions wireless phones posed to users.

Wireless phones are radios that emit frequency radiation, and in the United States the Federal Communications Commission must approve any device that sends out such radiation.

Exposure to high levels of radiation can cause adverse health effects, but it is less clear the impact on a wireless phone user who is exposed to low levels of radiation when a phone is held to an ear directly.

Health advocates have expressed concerns about radiation causing problems ranging from headaches to tumors. But the wireless industry has pointed to U.S. government statements that scientific evidence so far has not shown any health problems associated with wireless phone use.

Five class action lawsuits were filed in state courts seeking damages, including money for wireless users to buy a headset or reimburse those who had already had purchased one.

A U.S. district court judge dismissed the five lawsuits on the grounds that state regulation of wireless phone emissions was pre-empted by the FCC, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit overturned that decision and reinstated the cases.

The wireless industry is worried about being required to adhere to numerous different emissions requirements imposed by states, something the service providers and manufacturers argue would wreak havoc on the industry and consumers.

"This court's intervention is necessary to prevent the balkanisation of network standards...which will, if uncorrected, undermine the ability of consumers to use an FCC-approved wireless telephone in every state of the union," they said in their appeal to the high court.

Other companies that joined in the appeal include Motorola and Qualcomm. Cingular Wireless is a joint venture of BellSouth and SBC Communications

As a result of the high court's action, one lawsuit will go forward in federal court while the four other lawsuits will go forward in state court.

Story Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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