Italian Supreme Court rules brain tumor + work-related cellphone usage = a valid workers’ compensation claim!

We’ve all heard the speculation about the potential harm common modern conveniences like cell phones and laptops can do to our bodies, but a landmark case in Italy may be a game-changer legally.

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Italian businessman Innocenzo Marcolini is the director of a company who reportedly used a mobile phone for at least five to six hours a day over the course of twelve years. Marcolini is right-handed, so he was in the habit of holding his phone in his left hand to the left side of his head to enable note-taking with his right hand. As a result, he claims, he developed a tumor in the left side of his head.  And because he used the phone for work, he filed for workers’ compensation benefits.

The tumor that resulted was a non-cancerous neurinoma affecting a cranial nerve; despite it being benign the tumor required surgery that had a negative effect on Marcolini’s quality of life. As a result, he sought financial compensation from the Italian Workers’ Compensation Authority INAIL (Instituto Nazionale Per L’Assicurazione Contro Gli Infortuni Sul Lavoro), which rejected his application with the explanation that no proof existed that his illness had been caused by his work.

Marcolini decided to file suit for workers’ comp benefits, and a court in Brescia ruled that a link existed between the use of phones (both mobile and cordless) and tumors. INAIL appealed that ruling, and the Italian Supreme Court rejected their appeal on October 12th, leaving the ruling standing and paving the way for potential lawsuits like Innocenzo Marcolini’s. The Supreme Court said that the lower court’s decision was justified and that scientific evidence put forth in support of the claim was reliable.

That evidence was based on studies, conducted between 2005 and 2009, by a group led by Lennart Hardell, who is a cancer specialist at the University Hospital in Orebro in Sweden. The court remarked on the fact that the research was independent and “…unlike some others was not co-financed by the same companies that produce mobile telephones.”

The court’s decision could be perceived as controversial because scientific opinion typically asserts that there’s not enough evidence to pronounce a link between mobile phone uses and various diseases; some experts say that the Italian ruling shouldn’t be used to draw broad conclusions about this subject.

“Great caution is needed before we jump to conclusions about mobile phones and brain tumors,” said Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics and clinical engineering at Britain’s Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Will we see such cases here in the States?  Certainly, I can envision realtors and other salespersons who are required by employers to make extensive use of cellphones every day potentially having a workers’ comp claim if disabling medical issues arise like they did for Marcolini.  We can bet, however, that such a claim would almost certainly be initially denied and would need a judicial ruling to be accepted!

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