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Italy: Supreme Court Ruling on Mobile Phones and Tumors

(Oct. 23, 2012) On October 18, 2012, it was reported that <?Italy's Supreme Court had handed down a ruling based on its acceptance of the argument that there is a causal connection between extensive cell phone use and the development of a brain tumor. The Court agreed with the appellant's claim that the growth of a benign tumor on the left side of his face had resulted from his having to spend five to six hours a day on the phone, for 12 years, as part of his job requirements. The Court ruled that he merited compensation, in the form of entitlement to an 80% disability pension. (Dan DeRight, Italy High Court Finds Causal Link Between Mobile Phones and Cancer, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Oct. 19, 2012).)

The appellant in the case, former Brescian company director Innocenzo Marcolini, discovered in 2002 that he had developed a “neurinoma,” a benign tumor that arises from the cells of a nerve sheath, in this case the Gasser’s ganglion of the trigeminal nerve. (Neurinoma, THE PROBERT ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MEDICINE (last visited Oct. 23, 2012); Manager bresciano risarcito per un tumore provocato dall’uso del cellulare, IL GIORNO (Oct. 18, 2012), .) Even though the tumor was deemed non-cancerous, it “nevertheless required surgery that badly affected his quality of life.” (Virginia Alimenti, Naomi O’Leary, & Kate Kelland, Italy Court Ruling Links Mobile Phone Use to Tumor, REUTERS (Oct. 19, 2012).)

Marcolini’s application to the Italian Workers’ Compensation Authority, INAIL, for financial compensation was turned down on the ground of lack of evidence that the tumor was work-related, but a Brescian court subsequently held that a causal link did exist between mobile and cordless phone use and tumors. INAIL’s appeal against that decision was rejected by the Supreme Court on October 12, 2012. (Id.)

In upholding the lower court’s decision, the Supreme Court held “that scientific evidence advanced in support of the claim was reliable” and that “Marcolini’s situation had been ‘different from normal, non-professional use of a mobile telephone.'” (Id.) That evidence was based chiefly on studies done by a Swedish group of cancer specialists, led by Lennart Hardell, between 2005 and 2009. (DeRight, supra; Lennart Hardell, Long-Term Use of Cellular and Cordless Phones and the Risk of Brain Tumours [Power Point presentation] (last visited Oct. 23, 2012).) The Court deemed their work to be independent and not, like some others’ research, “co-financed by the same companies that produce mobile telephones.” (Alimenti et al., supra.)

Scientific opinion remains divided, however, as to the strength of the causal tie between mobile phone use and tumors. In response to the Italian ruling, Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics and clinical engineering at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Great Britain, noted, “[g]reat caution is needed before we jump to conclusions about mobile phones and brain tumors.” (Id.) In May 2011, moreover, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization made the cautious announcement in a press release that it had classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, of the sort used by wireless phones, as only “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” (Press Release, IARC, IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans (May 31, 2011).)