A lawyer known for suing the tobacco and asbestos industries is now going after cellular phone companies, alleging in new lawsuits that the companies have known about health risks for users of the phones but failed to warn them.
Peter Angelos filed class-action lawsuits Thursday in Maryland and three other states. The suits seek to force the wireless industry to cover the cost of headsets that Angelos says would protect users from possible radiation hazards.
"Use the earpiece, and you avoid the hazard," said Angelos, who is perhaps best known as the owner of the Baltimore Orioles. "And if we get that far, at least the public knows that the potential hazard exists, and they know a way to avoid that potential."
The suits claim there are links between cellular phone use and a host of health problems, including damage to basic brain function. Two Baltimore-area residents named as plaintiffs in the Maryland case don't claim any health problems caused by cell phones but want the companies to pay for headsets as a preventative measure.
Cell phone makers insist there is no scientific evidence that their product poses any health risks. They cite two studies published last December that found no evidence of increased incidence of brain tumors in people who use cell phones.
"There is absolutely no credible evidence of any health risks associated with the use of wireless phones," Norman Sandler, director of global strategic issues at Motorola Inc., told The Washington Post.
Nonetheless, such claims have been raised in previous lawsuits across the country including some others in which Angelos' firm is involved. Federal agencies are studying the issue but have not ruled on cell phone safety.
Angelos wants the new lawsuits certified as class action, which could bring all current and future cell phone users under their umbrella. In addition to asking the companies to provide headsets which sell for $20 to $100 apiece the lawsuits also seek unspecified punitive damages.
Companies named in Angelos' lawsuits include Motorola, Ericsson, Sprint PCS, Nextel, AT&T and Verizon. In addition to Baltimore, the suits were filed in state courts in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
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