A divided federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated five lawsuits claiming that the cell phone industry has failed to protect consumers from unsafe levels of radiation.
The class-action lawsuits seek to force cell phone manufacturers to provide headsets, which they say could reduce risks of brain tumors. They also seek punitive damages.
The lawsuits originally were filed in state courts in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia and Louisiana but were consolidated and transferred to federal court in Baltimore.
Judge Catherine Blake dismissed the lawsuits last March, ruling that federal standards regulating wireless phones — including uniform national limits on radiation emissions — pre-empt the state law claims.
A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Blake's ruling in a 2-1 decision. Four of the cases were returned to state courts and one to federal district court for further proceedings.
Several studies have found no adverse health effects from cell phones.
Among plaintiffs' claims were that the industry's actions violated various state laws on consumer protection, product liability, implied warranty, negligence, fraud and civil conspiracy.
"We have thoroughly examined the claims ... and one thing is clear: the elements of each of the claims depend only on the resolution of questions of state law," Judge M. Blane Michael wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by Judge Michael Luttig.
Judge Jackson L. Kiser dissented, saying the claims require the courts to explore the adequacy of the Federal Communications Commission's radiation emission standards.
"It is well-settled that a suit to invalidate a federal regulation arises under federal law," Kiser wrote. "... This thinly disguised attack on the validity of the FCC standards raises a substantial federal question."
Neither Michael R. Allweiss, lawyer for the plaintiffs, nor cell phone industry attorney Kenneth W. Starr immediately returned phone calls seeking comment.