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Appeals court hits redial on mobile phone lawsuits

State law needs to be resolved

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The mobile phone industry faces fresh challenges in the US after appeal judges on the fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated five class-action lawsuits claiming that manufacturers have failed to protect consumers from dangerous radiation.

The suits were originally filed in five state courts, before being referred as a group to federal court in Baltimore. The plaintiffs want to force the phone makers to provide headsets, and are seeking punitive damages. They allege that the mobile phone industry broke state laws on consumer protection, product liability, implied warranty, negligence, fraud and civil conspiracy, according to Associated Press reports.

The suits were dismissed in March 2004 by Judge Catherine Blake when she ruled that the claims were preempted by federal regulation of wireless phones, and of phone radiation emissions. Now, a 2-1 majority of appeals judges has overturned that ruling, sending the suits back to state courts.

Judges Michael Luttig and Blane Michael wrote, in the majority opinion: "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."

However, Judge Jackson Kiser said that the cases raised a "substantial federal question". "It is well-settled that a suit to invalidate a federal regulation arises under federal law," he wrote.

The question of the safety of mobile phone emissions has not really been properly answered yet. For every study finding that they are safe, there is one suggesting that they might indeed cause some damage, superficial or otherwise. In the UK, the government has advised limiting children's exposure to mobile phones, prompting one company to pull its phone from the market. ®

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