Angelos joins lawsuit on cell-phone injuries

Local physician, wife claim his brain tumor caused by long use

January 17, 2001|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos jumped yesterday into the legal fray over whether wireless telephones cause cancer, joining in the lawsuit of a local physician who claims he developed a brain tumor from using one of the increasingly popular devices.

Angelos, who made a fortune suing asbestos makers and stands to collect millions more from tobacco litigation, signaled his entry into the wireless-phone issue by having his firm file as co-counsel in an $800 million suit pending in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Dr. Christopher J. Newman, a neurologist, and his wife, Mary Frances, filed suit in August seeking damages from Motorola Inc. and several wireless carriers. They contend that the cellular phones he began using in 1992 caused the tumor discovered in his brain nearly three years ago.

The lawsuit also contends that the cellular telephone industry knew the devices posed health hazards because of the radiation emitted by the antenna. It accuses two industry associations of falsely portraying cell phones as safe.

Angelos' entry into the case comes after it suffered a setback last month. Filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, the Newmans' lawsuit was transferred at the industry's request to federal court.

There, Judge Catherine C. Blake excused two wireless companies from the suit and dismissed most of the allegations against the remaining defendants. But she gave the couple's original lawyer, Joanne M. Suder, until yesterday to file an amended lawsuit backing up claims with specific allegations.

The 86-page lawsuit filed by two Angelos attorneys details claims against the industry and makes new allegations of "conspiratorial conduct" - contending that researchers first documented health effects in the 1920s from radio-frequency radiation, the same type of energy emitted by cell phones when they were developed.

Angelos' entry into cell-phone litigation raises a new challenge for the rapidly expanding wireless industry, which claims 100 million U.S. subscribers. It has successfully defended previous claims, first raised in Florida in 1993.

"Angelos' firm has the deep pockets that none of the previous plaintiffs' lawyers had," said Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, a journal that covers the industry.

"They have the resources to see this through, find the experts and stay in there for the long term ."

Angelos, majority owner of the Baltimore Orioles, earned millions by filing lawsuits on behalf of shipyard workers and others claiming they were injured by exposure to asbestos. He also has brought other high-profile suits, most recently representing Maryland in a successful claim against cigarette manufacturers. He is in a dispute over how much of the $4 billion settlement he is due in legal fees.

Angelos' entry in the cell-phone case confirms news reports last month in this country and abroad that he saw potential for litigation in the industry, which has an estimated 400 million users worldwide.

The Times of London, quoting John A. Pica, a lawyer in Angelos' firm and a former state senator, reported that Angelos planned to file 10 lawsuits against members of the U.S. mobile-phone industry.

Angelos did not return calls last night seeking comment on the cell-phone lawsuit. Pica, one of two Angelos attorneys who signed the new filing, declined to comment.

A lawyer for Motorola could not be reached, nor could a representative for Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.

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