Partner Communications, which operates in Israel under the Orange brand name, has reached a settlement with a customer who claims he contracted cancer after using one of their devices.
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The customer, who is in his 50s, sued Partner in May, claiming that intensive use of the device resulted in an aggressive lymphoma near his left ear. Partner agreed to pay NIS 400,000 in an out-of-court compromise settlement.
The customer is an attorney who had converted the secure room – a reinforced room that doubles as a bomb shelter and is common in most new Israeli homes – into an office. He claimed that he conducted a great deal of phone calls and business from the room, where cellular reception was low. In places without good phone reception, such as elevators and secure rooms, the electromagnetic radiation from cellular phones is higher than usual.
Partner's settlement is a rare act. The company says they opted to pay the customer as a humanitarian gesture, saying in a statement, "The company is very meticulous about adhering to the guidelines of the World Health Organization, the Health Ministry, the Communications Ministry and all the relevant bodies. No scientific or medical basis was found to the claim and it was rejected by the court. Beyond the letter of the law, in light of [the man's] personal story, the company decided on an exceptional humanitarian gesture. We wish him good health."
Regardless of their statement, the customer's lawsuit included a medical opinion linking mobile phone use and his disease, which raises questions about Partner. Was it concerned the opinion would be legally validated if the case when to court? Was it worried about a precedent? Did it prefer to sign the compromise agreement to save face in the media?
Israel's other cellular companies have less to fear from lawsuits because their rules are relatively strict when held up alongside international standards. Every device comes with a brochure detailing safety precautions, which include using an earpiece and refraining from taking in locations with poor reception.
Israelis are among the heaviest cell phone users in the world. According to a Partner report issued last week, its customers speak for 450 minutes a month on average. Customers with unlimited packages speak for about 700 minutes a month.
The debate about radiation damages has been around since the establishment of the cellular companies. Until now most of the battle has been over radiation from antennas. The present compromise is unusual because it focuses on radiation from the cellular device itself. Two months ago a survey found increasing evidence of the link between the use of cell phones and brain tumors.
This particular settlement by Partner is liable to have an effect on cell phone companies and open the floodgates to a barrage of individual and class-action lawsuits, providing plenty of work for lawyers specializing in the field. Following a ruling in the United States requiring tobacco companies to pay damages for cancer patients who had smoked, lawsuits poured in and the value of tobacco companies plummeted as a result.