In August of last year, a consumer launched a class action against Apple and Samsung, arguing that they failed to provide warnings about radiation from their phones. The case was based on an article in the Chicago Tribune claiming that phones made by both companies violated federal safety standards. Samsung was dismissed from the case early in 2020, but the litigation continued against Apple.
Tests of radiation from iPhones produced divergent results. Tests commissioned by the plaintiffs found that radiation exposure from iPhones surpassed federal safety limits. Tests conducted by Canadian and French agencies produced similar results. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tested model and commercially available iPhones in the aftermath of the Chicago Tribune article. These tests determined that the radiation was clearly within the federal safety limits.
Persuaded by the FCC tests, a judge in a U.S. District Court dismissed the case. The judge noted that the Federal Communications Act of 1934 grants broad authority to the FCC to enact uniform regulations for these emissions. Allowing the plaintiffs to proceed would undermine the legitimacy of the FCC procedures. This in turn would reduce efficiency and uniformity. Manufacturers might be forced to comply with a variety of standards to market their products, which would increase costs. Since there was no evidence of violations from the FCC tests, a jury should not be allowed to interject their own opinion on this technical issue.
In a similar case this year, another U.S. District Court judge struck down an ordinance by the city of Berkeley, California. This ordinance would have required cell phone retailers to instruct consumers on how to avoid radio frequency exposure. The Cellular Telephone Industries Association persuaded the judge in that case that federal regulations controlling radio frequency emissions preempted the city ordinance.
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