Causal link between mobile phones and brain tumour: a new decision revives the debate

On 13 January 2020 the Turin Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal filed by the National Insurance Provider ("INAIL") and upheld the first instance decision issued by the Court of Ivrea in 2017, which had established causation between extensive work-related use of mobile phone and brain tumour, ordering INAIL to compensate the claimant with a lifelong payment.

Background of the case

A 57-year-old employee of the Italian telecommunication company Telecom sued INAIL before the Court of Ivrea alleging that he developed an acoustic neurinoma as a result of the allegedly extensive work-related use of mobile phone.

The Court of Ivrea appointed a court expert to investigate causation and, in 2017 ruled that, although there is no scientific certainty about the possible carcinogenic effects of radiofrequencies, mobile phones may play a role in causing rare diseases as the one allegedly suffered by the claimant.

The decision of the Turin Court of Appeals

In the appeal proceedings, the Turin Court of Appeals directed a new court expertise in order to re-investigate over causation. Based on the findings of the new court appointed experts, the Court fully confirmed the first instance decision thus rejecting the appeal brought by INAIL.

Inter alia, the court appointed experts:

  • Specified that the employee had used mobile phones employing 2G GSM technology (which generated radiofrequency radiations almost 100 times higher compared to the current devices employing 3G and 4G technology);
  • Mentioned several scientific studies that have asserted a higher probability of developing neoplastic diseases among mobile phones' users, and referred to experimental studies performed on animals;
  • Referred to the classification of electromagnetic fields as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (category 2B) authored in 2011 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer ("IARC"). Moreover, the court experts pointed out that in April 2019 an Advisory Group of 29 scientists coming from 19 different countries included radiofrequency among those agents recommended for re-evaluation of carcinogenicity with high priority by the IARC (for years from 2020 to 2024).

The Turin Court of Appeals grounded its decision on the above findings and stated that the scientific literature mentioned by the court appointed experts shall be considered reliable and independent, as opposed to the scientific literature related to researches funded or managed by entities that have a direct interest in the results of such studies.

Comments

The recent decision of the Turin Court of Appeals follows in the footstep of various Italian courts' decisions that have in some way acknowledged the link between cancer and the intense and extensive use of mobile phones.

In this respect, the recent judgments might set a new trend in case-law which could gradually open the gates also for non-professional users to take legal actions against mobile phones manufacturers or sellers. This all the more so considering the forthcoming entry into force (October 2020) of the Italian law introducing a new regime for class actions, which is supposed to simplify the recourse to such collective type of lawsuit.

Against such potential development, it's worth noting that courts shall still assess causation on a case-by-case basis and the findings of the experts appointed by the Turin Court of Appeals do not per se ground any mobile phone users' potential claim. For the latter to be upheld, the relevant claimant will need to demonstrate, inter alia, the existence of specific causal link between the use of the device and the relevant disease. Still, mobile phone manufacturers operating in Italy might need to reconsider the warnings included in the users' instructions manual, so as to include a specific and more detailed warning on the potential health risks.


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