Mobile risk: Could cancer lawsuits come to Europe?

The whole world is watching the outcome of a neurologist's claim against mobile phone manufacturers

If the impending lawsuit against Motorola is successful in the US, it could force mobile phone manufacturers here to settle out of court in similar cases.

Robin Bynoe, partner at Charles Russell law firm in London, believes a defeat in the US could encourage mobile companies to settle the inevitable rush of similar suits out of court in the UK.

"Losing this case might well cause Motorola to cave in after they see the effect of cross-examination on their evidence," he said. However, he emphasised that the actions of a US court have no effect on English law.

Dr Chris Newman, a neurologist from Maryland, claims that frequent use of his Motorola mobile phone between 1992 and 1998 caused a brain tumour. He's suing the company, and US telco Verizon Communications, for £530m.

Bynoe explained that a ruling against Motorola would have implications for anyone importing mobile phones into Europe. "The EC has rules about bringing dangerous goods into the European Community. If mobiles were found to cause brain damage, then the first-time importer would be liable." A UK claimant could sue both the manufacturer of the phone and the retailer who sold the device, says Bynoe.

The latest UK research into mobile phone safety is the government-funded Stewart Inquiry, published in May. It recommended a precautionary approach to mobile phones, and advised parents to limit their children's exposure to the technology.

Although the inquiry found that radio frequency radiation at levels associated with mobile phones could cause subtle biological changes in the brain, these effects were not proven to be hazardous. Last week, the Department for Education and Employment recommended to schools that pupils should be discouraged from using mobiles.

Neither Motorola nor Nokia were prepared to comment on the US court case. A spokesman for Motorola in the US claimed that in the past all similar lawsuits had been withdrawn, or rejected by the courts.

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