The Italian courts have created an important precedent, and the Italy cell phone verdict is an important step in the cell phone debate. So what happened, exactly, and why is it so significant?
NOTE: This post has been updated based on 2020 appeals court ruling.
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The 2017 Italy Cell Phone Court Ruling
As the Daily Mail reported: “A man has been awarded monthly social security payments after a court found that his brain tumor was caused by a company-issued cellphone.”
The court ordered the Italian mobile firm, Telecom Italia, to pay the plaintiff $7,500 a year for the rest of his life. Not an earth shattering sum by US legal standards.
So why is this much bigger and more important than $7,500 a year might suggest?
A Sign of Things to Come
Because, “it was the first trial court verdict in the world ‘to recognize a link between cellphone use and the development of brain tumor’.” (Emphasis added.)
The plaintiff, Roberto Romeo, used his work cell for approximately four hours per day for 15 years for his job at Telecom Italia. His total exposure was estimated at 12,600 hours over 15 years. And he developed an acoustic neuroma, which is a brain tumor that forms on an acoustic nerve in the head.
The norms say intense use is one hour a day,’ Romeo told Sky TG24. ‘I went well beyond the limits.’
Additionally, the judge refused to accept ‘evidence’ submitted by the cell phone industry claiming that cell phone use is “safe”.
Why? Because those studies submitted on behalf of the defendant were funded by the cell phone industry.
Energized by the ruling, the Italian consumer protection group Codacons announced it may file a class action lawsuit. Their goal: forcing cell phones sold in Italy to carry warning labels. (This follows the city of Berkeley, California who implemented a similar law in 2015).
And that’s a great example of why a ruling like this Italy cell phone verdict is so significant. Because it provides an important legal precedent.
Italian Appeals Court Upholds the Verdict in 2020, Agreeing Cell Phones Cause Tumors
The Turin court of appeal on Tuesday upheld a ruling issued by a lower court in 2017 in relation to a man with neurinoma of the acoustic nerve, a benign but disabling tumour. The decision was based on studies provided by two court-appointed doctors that showed an increased risk of head tumours among those who talked on their phones for 30 minutes a day over a 10-year period.
“There are solid elements to affirm a causal role between the exposure of the person to radio frequencies from mobile phones and the disease that arose,” the judges said in their ruling.
So now an appeals court agrees with the original lower court: cell phones cause tumors.
Making this ruling an even stronger precedent for EMF health advocates, the appeals court judges also found that a significant portion of the scientific studies that find that cell phones do not cause cancer are funded by the wireless industry– and that this funding is not always disclosed with the research.
An Evolution of Legal History About Whether Cell Phones Cause Tumors
To be clear, it is not “news” that cell phones cause brain tumors. Not today as the appeals court has delivered its verdict, and not in 2017 when the original ruling came down.
Scientists, activists and average consumers have been making these claims for decades.
On January 21, 1993 a Florida businessman named David Reynard went on CNN’s Larry King Live. Reynard was there to discuss a lawsuit he had filed against cell phone maker NEC. He alleged that his 33-year old wife had died from a brain tumor that resulted from her use of a cell phone.
Reynard presented x-rays of his wife’s brain. These showed that the tumor had grown right where his wife, Susan, had held her phone for hours each day. And a lot of people immediately became very concerned.
Shares of cell phone makers started tanking the next day. Motorola’s stock price declined 20% in the week following Reynard’s appearance. McCaw Cellular saw their shares drop 15% in the same window.
But, Reynard lost his suit in 1995. The Florida Circuit Court ruled that there was no evidence that cell phones can cause cancer.
And that’s true. By the early to mid 1990s, there were no real studies into the long term health effects of cell phone usage.
The Landscape Has Shifted
But today, the landscape has shifted. In the intervening decades, a large body of evidence has emerged. Large enough that we now, for the first time in human history, have a legal ruling that cell phones cause cancer.
So while it’s not news that cell phones cause cancer, it is news that a court has recognized that fact in a legal ruling. That creates a precedent. And it’s been upheld on appeal– that creates a much stronger precedent.
And it’s a precedent that is likely to grow stronger, rather than weaker, in future litigation. Each event like this Italy cell phone verdict chips away at the wireless industry’s claims that cell phones are safe.
(Just like the Berkeley warning label law before it. And the recent news that the California Department of Public Health kept its cell phone safety guidelines secret for years. The court’s refusal in this case to accept tainted scientific studies provides another important precedent. Namely, that the courts recognize that not all science is equally valid.)
What This Means in the Long Term
Cell phones are not going away. It doesn’t matter how many legal rulings there are. Or how many scientists publish studies linking cell phones to cancer. Heck, Tim Cook could come out tomorrow and explain iPhones cause brain tumors, and there would be no impact on iPhone sales.
Modern society is completely dependent on wireless technology to function.
But, with each event like this, the more the body of scientific evidence and legal precedent grows. That means we are approaching a point when the wireless industry will be forced to admit their products are not “safe” (as they have claimed for decades).
That’s when a critical mass of people will start using this technology with precaution. A level of precaution fully justified by the risks.