Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cellphone Industry Product Liability Lawsuit

D.C. court considers how to screen out ‘bad science’ in local trials

Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post, Nov 24, 2015

The District’s highest court on Tuesday considered whether to change the rules for screening out “bad science” from trials and to adopt the standards used in most states and federal courts.
The case before the appellate court involves the question of whether cellphones can cause brain cancer. Plaintiffs have sued cellphone manufacturers and providers in D.C. Superior Court alleging that long-term exposure to cellphone radiation causes brain tumors.
The appellate court will not rule on that specific issue, but the full court is taking the opportunity to weigh how judges decide which expert witnesses are allowed to testify.
Under the standard used in the District, Illinois and a small number of other states, the judge determines whether a methodology or theory has gained “general acceptance” in the expert’s field. The test is known as Frye, a reference to a 1923 D.C. Circuit case.
After a landmark 1993 Supreme Court case, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, federal courts — and now the majority of states — adopted a more extensive test, making the judge the “gatekeeper” for ensuring that the scientific evidence is “not only relevant, but reliable.”
On one hand, [Judge] Weisberg said, there is not enough evidence for any scientist to conclude with certainty that cellphones cause brain cancer. On the other, because of the District’s standards for admitting evidence, Weisberg said he would permit the testimony of five experts who would say in effect that cellphones are more likely than not to cause or promote certain brain tumors.
But Weisberg also noted that in a federal courtroom, that testimony was unlikely to be aired.
Attorneys for the 13 plaintiffs and a local organization of trial lawyers had urged the court in its filings to keep the standard, which lawyer Jeffrey B. Morganroth said Tuesday is “working just fine.”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys, representing people who suffer from or have died from brain tumors, said any change would be a “drastic departure” from current practice.

Case on Health Risk From Cellphones Is Back in Court

Ryan Knutson, Wall Street Journal, Nov 22, 2015

Murray v. Motorola faces another test Tuesday when the two sides argue over what legal standard to use
In the years since the lawsuit was filed, other plaintiffs have brought more than two dozen similar cases, the most recent one in October. Defendants include almost all the major cellphone and wireless companies, including AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.
Representatives for Motorola and the other defendants referred questions to the CTIA, the wireless industry trade group, which said in a statement that “peer-reviewed scientific evidence has overwhelmingly indicated that wireless devices do not pose a public health risk for adults or children.”
So far, the cases have mostly been a battle over legal procedure, not science ...
... A total of 13 cases have been consolidated into the Murray case, and the plaintiffs are seeking more than $1.9 billion in damages combined. 
In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, cellphone manufacturers and wireless carriers specifically acknowledge the risk posed by health-related lawsuits. “We may incur significant expenses in defending these lawsuits,” Verizon wrote in its 2015 annual filing. “In addition, we may be required to pay significant awards or settlements.”
... Eight of the plaintiffs in other cases have died while the lawsuits have been pending, he said. A decision in favor of Motorola and the other defendants, which are pushing for the Daubert standard, would send ripples beyond the Murray lawsuit. Seventeen of the other cellphone-health cases are stayed pending a ruling in this case.
If the plaintiffs prevail, discovery will begin on the broad issue of whether cellphones can cause brain tumors, specifically, glioma and acoustic neuroma. In addition, the plaintiffs would need to prove cellphones caused the cancer in their specific cases. 

August 8, 2014

My comments:  This superior court ruling enables the discovery phase of the trial to begin.  Perhaps, we will soon learn whether the wireless industry has been covering up knowledge of the health risks of mobile phone use. 

The insurance industry has refused to provide product liability insurance on cell phones primarily due to this concern as they fear that cell phone litigation may turn out like tobacco or asbestos litigation did with huge punitive awards.

My most recent press release, "FCC: 98 Scientific Experts Demand Stronger Regulation of Cellphone Radiation" makes the case that the scientific community has known for many years about the health risks of mobile phone radiation. The wireless industry, however, has confused government officials and the public by co-opting scientists to support the industry's disinformation campaign to buy time.


29 brain tumor lawsuits move toward trial in Washington, DC

Arthur Firstenberg, Cellular Phone Task Force, Aug 11, 2014

Twenty-nine high-profile lawsuits brought by people whose brain tumors were caused by their cell phones are finally moving toward trial. Six of these cases were originally filed in 2001 and 2002. Many of the plaintiffs are no longer alive.

On Friday, Judge Frederick H. Weisberg, in the D.C. Superior Court, admitted the testimony of five expert witness for the plaintiffs, and the 12- and 13-year-old cases will now move into the discovery phase. Each of the plaintiffs is asking for more than $100,000,000. There are 46 defendants including Motorola, Nokia, AT&T, Bell Atlantic, Cellular One, Cingular Wireless, SBC Communications, Verizon, Vodafone, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the IEEE, ANSI, the CTIA, and the FCC. The plaintiffs are represented by Jeffrey B. Morganroth of Morganroth & Morganroth, a law firm in Birmingham, Michigan.

For over a decade the industry and the plaintiffs have played tug-of-war with the oldest cases, sending them back and forth between federal and state courts, and fighting over whether the plaintiff's claims were preempted by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

In 2009 the D.C. Court of Appeals, in Murray v. Motorola (982 A. 2d 764), ruled that the telecommunications companies could not be sued over brain tumors caused by cell phones manufactured after 1996. But since all of these plaintiffs had used pre-1996 phones, their lawsuits were allowed to go forward. They were also allowed to go forward on their claims that the defendants made false and misleading statements and failed to disclose information about the dangers of cell phones.  These claims were brought under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act.

In December 2013 and January 2014, testimony was heard from:

DR. SHIRA KRAMER, a Maryland epidemiologist;

DR. MICHAEL KUNDI, professor of epidemiology and occupational health at the Medical University of Vienna;

DR. VINI KHURANA, a neurosurgeon and professor of neurosurgery at the Australian National University in Canberra;

DR. IGOR BELYAEV, head research scientist at the Cancer Research institute at the Slovak Academy of Science in Bratislava, Slovakia;

DR. WILHELM MOSGOELLER, professor and medical doctor at the University of Vienna Medical School’s Institute for Cancer Research;

DR. DIMITRIS PANAGAPOULOUS, founder of the Radiation Biophysics Laboratory at the University of Athens;

DR. ABRAHAM LIBOFF, professor emeritus of physics at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan; and

DR. LAURA PLUNKETT, pharmacologist and toxicologist in Houston.

On Friday, August 8, 2014, the testimony of Drs. Kramer, Khurana, and Panagopoulos was disallowed. But the testimony of Drs. Kundi, Belyaev, Mosgoeller, Liboff, and Plunkett was admitted. They will testify at trial about "general causation," i.e. that cell phones can cause brain tumors.

The lawsuits now move into the discovery phase, in which each side is compelled to produce documents and answer questions. This is the first time that the industry has had to turn over data. There will then be a fight over the admission of the testimony of witnesses on "specific causation," i.e. doctors and others who will testify that these specific cell phones caused these specific tumors.

Friday's decision by Judge Weisberg allowed 13 of the cases, which have been consolidated in one action, to go forward.  The other 16 cases are being tried separately, but the parties in those cases agreed to be bound by Friday's decision.


Judge Frederick H. Weisberg, Washington D.C. Superior Court: Expert Preemption Order (page 5): 

"Federal law is the supreme law of the land, but there is no constitutional provision that says federal facts are the supreme facts of the land. Federal law can preempt state law, but it cannot preempt scientific fact. The scientific truth, whatever it may be, lies outside of the FCC’s regulations about what is 'safe' or 'unsafe.'  The experts have offered their opinions on the state of the scientific knowledge and general causation. They have testified about the methodology they used to reach those opinions. Their testimony on these points, at this stage of the case, is not subject to preemption."  


Judge Weisberg's ruling on expert witness admissibility

Michael Patrick Murray et al. v. Motorola, Inc. et al.
Superior Court for the District of Columbia



Microsoft Corporation. Form 10-K. United States Securities and Exchange Commission. Washington. July 31, 2015. pp. 87-88. 

U.S. cell phone litigation
Nokia, along with other handset manufacturers and network operators, is a defendant in 19 lawsuits filed in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia by individual plaintiffs who allege that radio emissions from cellular handsets caused their brain tumors and other adverse health effects. We have assumed responsibility for these claims as part of the NDS acquisition and have been substituted for the Nokia defendants. Nine of these cases were filed in 2002 and are consolidated for certain pre-trial proceedings; the remaining 10 cases are stayed. In a separate 2009 decision, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that adverse health effect claims arising from the use of cellular handsets that operate within the U.S. Federal Communications Commission radio frequency emission guidelines (“FCC Guidelines”) are pre-empted by federal law. The plaintiffs allege that their handsets either operated outside the FCC Guidelines or were manufactured before the FCC Guidelines went into effect. The lawsuits also allege an industry-wide conspiracy to manipulate the science and testing around emission guidelines.
In September 2013, defendants in the consolidated cases moved to exclude plaintiffs’ expert evidence of general causation on the basis of flawed scientific methodologies. In March 2014, defendants filed a separate motion to preclude plaintiffs’ general causation testimony. In August 2014, the court granted in part defendants’ motion to exclude plaintiffs’ general causation experts. The plaintiffs filed an interlocutory appeal. In December 2014, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals agreed to hear en banc defendants’ interlocutory appeal challenging the standard for evaluating expert scientific evidence. Trial court proceedings are stayed pending resolution of the appeal.
Canadian cell phone class action
Nokia, along with other handset manufacturers and network operators, is a defendant in a 2013 class action lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia by a purported class of Canadians who have used cellular phones for at least 1,600 hours, including a subclass of users with brain tumors. Microsoft was served with the complaint in June 2014 and has been substituted for the Nokia defendants. The litigation is not yet active as several defendants remain to be served.


Court Allows Expert Testimony in Litigation Alleging Cell Phone-Linked Tumors According to Consumers' Legal Team

WASHINGTON -- Aug 8, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- A Washington D.C. superior court ruled that five scientific expert witnesses can testify for consumers suffering from brain tumors allegedly caused or promoted by cell phone use Ashcraft & Gerel LLP Morganroth and Morganroth PLLC Lundy Lundy Soileau & South L.L.P. and co-counsel said today.

Judge Frederick H. Weisberg who is presiding over 13 consolidated lawsuits against the telecom industry ruled that experts met the Dyas/Frye legal standards and can offer testimony related to injury causation and health effects. The court held evidentiary hearings in December 2013 and January 2014 and reviewed hundreds of exhibits.

Judge Weisberg noted that while the court did not decide the issue of whether cell phones cause brain tumors new scientific studies and information have emerged recently. His order referred to a May 2014 French case-control epidemiological study that found support for "a possible association between heavy mobile phone use" and brain tumors.

Each of the plaintiffs in the litigation suffers from a brain tumor or is suing for a family of someone who died of brain cancer.

The plaintiffs are represented by Morganroth and Morganroth PLLC of Birmingham Mich.; Ashcraft & Gerel LLP of Washington D.C. and Lundy Lundy Soileau & South LLP of Lake Charles La.; The Knoll Law Firm LLC of Marksville La.; Pribanic & Pribanic LLC of Pittsburgh; Frasier Frasier & Hickman LLP of Tulsa Okla.; and Bernstein Liebhard LLP of New York.

Hunter Lundy of Lundy Lundy Soileau & South LLP said "The telecom industry argued for years that cell phone consumer litigants could not produce scientists who could relate exposure to cell phone radiation to tumors. The ruling today refutes that contention and our experts' opinions having met the Dyas/Frye test are admissible."

Jeffrey B. Morganroth of Morganroth and Morganroth PLLC said "We now have opinions and testimony from prominent scientific experts that will be admissible and support our clients' claims that cell phone radiation can cause brain tumors in humans. With this landmark ruling the cases are moving forward to fact discovery."

Michelle Parfitt and James F. Green of Ashcraft & Gerel LLP said "The evidence presented at the evidentiary hearings months ago only included publicly available materials and did not include any testing data or information in possession of the defendants. We will seek that information as soon as possible."

The first of the consolidated cases is "Michael Patrick Murray et al. v. Motorola Inc. et al." Case No. 2001 CA 008479 B in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. The defendants in the cases are Motorola Inc. Qualcomm Inc. Nokia Inc. Audiovox Communications Corp. and Samsung Telecomm American LLC.

Contact: Erin Powers Powers MediaWorks LLC for Ashcraft Gerel LLP info@powersmediaworks.com.

SOURCE Ashcraft & Gerel LLP