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Discovery Moving Forward in Hair Relaxer Kit Lawsuits Over Cancer Risks
Lawyers involved in hair relaxer kit lawsuits pending in the federal court system have resolved a number of key issues regarding the exchange of information and documents in the litigation, clearing the way for discovery to move forward and help prepare cases for trial.
Over the past year, at least 2,200 Dark & Lovely lawsuits, Just for Me lawsuits and other claims have been brought against the makers of popular hair relaxer kits, each raising similar allegations that women were not adequately warned about the potential cancer side effects caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals in the products.
However, as lawyers continue to investigate and file new claims, it is expected that the size and scope of the litigation will increase rapidly over the coming months, and it is ultimately expected that tens of thousands of women diagnosed with uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and other injuries will ultimately file a lawsuit against the manufacturers.
Given common questions of fact and law involved in the claims, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided earlier this year to consolidate and centralize all hair relaxer kit lawsuits as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, and appointed U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland to preside over all pretrial proceedings out of the Northern District of Illinois, as well as a series of early trial dates designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims.
Hair Relaxer Kit Lawsuit Discovery Proceedings
Before scheduling individual cases for trial, Judge Rowland is overseeing the exchange of information between the parties for common discovery into issues that will impact all cases. However, lawyers previously disagreed about a number of key issues regarding the scope of this discovery and what information must be produced.
In a docket entry (PDF) posted this week, Judge Rowland indicated that plaintiffs and defendants addressed nine categories of discovery disputes during a status conference on October 2, including the definition of “hair relaxer products” itself.
“As to hair relaxer kits sold to consumers, parties agree that it is limited to the kits and does NOT include the conditioners or shampoos that may be recommended ‘for best results’ on the back of the kit. But the discovery will include ALL the products contained in the kit” the entry notes. “As for hair relaxer products sold commercially to salons, the parties will meet and confer. Production will be limited to the products required by the label, not all products sold by the Defendant to the salon per Defendants’ suggestion.”
The groups also decided plaintiffs could ask for documents dating back up to five years, and addressed issues over documents held out of the country, patent-related documents, deadlines on responsive documents and requests for electronically stored information.
In a separate docket entry (PDF) issued on October 3, the Court announced that the next status conference is scheduled for November 17, but could be advanced to November 13 if the parties’ liaison counsels agree.
Following the MDL proceedings and any early bellwether trials scheduled by Judge Rowland, if the parties fail to negotiate hair relaxer settlements for individuals diagnosed with uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids and other complications, Judge Rowland may later remand each individual lawsuit directly filed in the MDL back to the U.S. District Court where it would have originated for a separate trial.
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