Eligible for a Hair Relaxer lawsuit?
Information About Hair Relaxer Injury Lawsuits To Be Provided on Plaintiff Fact Sheets
The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal hair relaxer injury lawsuits is requiring each claimant to complete a Plaintiff Fact Sheet, providing information about the injuries they experienced after using chemical straighteners, which will help guide the selection of potential bellwether lawsuits that will serve as early test cases in the growing litigation.
Nearly 10,000 women throughout the United States are currently pursuing product liability claims against the manufacturers of popular hair straighteners, such as Dark & Lovely, Just for Me, ORS Olive Oil and other products widely used among African American women, each raising similar allegations that application of the chemicals resulted in the development of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, uterine fibroids and other injuries.
The litigation emerged late last year, following the publication of a study that highlighted a link between use of hair relaxer and uterine cancer, finding that women who regularly used the products face a 156% increased risk compared to women who did not use hair relaxers.
Plaintiffs now seek financial compensation, indicating that manufacturers knew or should have known about the risks associated with endocrine disrupting chemicals in hair relaxers, but placed their desire for profits before the health and safety of African American and other women.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in hair relaxer lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established coordinated pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of Illinois under U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland in January 2023.
Early in the litigation, Judge Rowland indicated that the court will establish a bellwether process, where a small group of representative lawsuits involving different products and specific injuries will be prepared for early trial dates, to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence that will be repeated throughout the litigation.
Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Plaintiff Fact Sheets
Last month, parties proposed draft hair relaxer lawsuit bellwether trial plans, which outlined a process for selecting potential bellwether cases and putting them through the discovery process. According to a plan proposed by plaintiffs, the first hair relaxer lawsuit bellwether trial would not begin until November 3, 2025, with a second trial starting on February 2, 2026.
However, the parties must be able to determine which cases will serve best as representatives of the majority of claims, requiring a quick way to reference thousands of different cases involving different products and injuries.
In a case management order (PDF) issued on December 19, Judge Rowland ordered all plaintiffs to fill out Plaintiff Fact Sheets to help streamline that process. The fact sheets will gather case-specific information about the hair relaxer-related injuries experienced by each plaintiff, including the specific products used and relevant background information needed to complete written discovery.
Those who filed claims on or before June 30, 2023, have 45 days from the date of the order. Claimants who filed between July 1, 2023 and August 31, 2023, have 60 days, and those who have filed claims since September 1, 2023 up to the date of the order have 120 days. Any cases filed after December 19 will have 45 days to submit a substantially complete Plaintiff Fact Sheet.
Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Bellwether Trial Protocols Delayed
Over the coming months, the parties will engage in additional fact discovery, including depositions of plaintiffs, treating physician and other relevant witnesses that may testify at trial. The bellwether process will then move into the expert discovery phase, including any challenges to the admissibility of expert opinion testimony before the first cases are presented to a jury.
In November, Judge Rowland issued a pretrial order directing the parties to meet, confer and submit a proposed Bellwether Protocol by December 11. However, the parties indicate they have been unable to agree on one unified hair relaxer bellwether plan, and asked for an extension of the deadline for submitting their competing proposals.
Earlier this month Judge Rowland granted a time extension to December 18. However, in a Notification of Docket Entry (PDF) filed on December 20, she extended the deadline again, to January 8.
While the outcome of these test trials will not have any impact on other Dark & Lovely lawsuits, Just for Me lawsuits and claims filed against the manufacturers of other products, the average amounts of jury awards may promote potential hair relaxer settlements that could avoid the need for thousands of individual claims to go to trial nationwide.
Following coordinated discovery in the MDL and any early bellwether trials, 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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