Nearly 6,000 Hair Relaxer Lawsuits Filed in Federal MDL by Women Diagnosed with Uterine Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Other Injuries

Thousands of new hair relaxer lawsuits have been filed over the past few months, claiming manufacturers knew their products put women at risk of cancer.

Women nationwide have brought almost 6,000 hair relaxer lawsuits against cosmetics companies, each indicating that they have developed uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and other ailments after regular exposure to Dark & Lovely, Just for Me, ORS Olive Oil and other widely used chemical hair straighteners.

The complaints all raise similar allegations that manufacturers failed to disclose information about the known link between cancer and hair relaxers, which have been marketed to African Americans and other minorities without disclosing that the products contain toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals that can cause life-changing side effects.

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 in January 2023, at a time when there were only about 40 cases pending nationwide.

According to an updated docket report (PDF) issued on October 16, there now at least 5,996 complaints centralized in the federal hair relaxer MDL (multidistrict litigation). However, the number of cases is expected to continue increasing over the next few years, and it is widely expected that tens of thousands of women may eventually bring claims seeking financial compensation.


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Influx of Hair Relaxer Lawsuits Filed in Late 2023

Concerns about the safety of hair relaxers gained widespread attention late last year, following the publication of a study that highlighted a link between use of hair relaxer and uterine cancer in October 2022. Researchers found that that frequent use was associated with a 156% increased risk compared to women who did not use hair relaxers.

Dozens of product liability lawsuits were filed over the months after the study was published, each indicating women may have avoided a cancer diagnosis or other injury if the manufacturers had adequately disclosed risks associated with applying the chemicals to their scalps.

As late as July 2023, there were only about 250 complaints pending in MDL, which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland to coordinate discovery and pretrial proceedings in the hair relaxer claims. However, as the one year anniversary of the first study approached in early October 2023, the pace of complaints increased dramatically.

The rapid rise in filing of hair relaxer claims was also driven by a prior bankruptcy filing by Revlon, which manufactured several hair relaxer products. The lawsuits began to be filed as Revlon was attempting to emerge from a previously filed bankruptcy, and the court established deadlines that required claims against Revlon to be filed by September 2023.

October 2023 Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Status

While the litigation continues to grow, the Court has indicated that it will establish a “bellwether” process, where small groups of representative claims will go through case-specific discovery and be prepared for early trial dates, to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

As researchers continue to conduct ongoing studies about the long-term side effects of hair relaxers, it is expected that new evidence will emerge that may impact the litigation greatly.

In early October 2023, the plaintiffs’ case was further strengthened when the FDA announced it was considering a ban on certain chemical hair straighteners that contain or emit formaldehyde, which is likely to lead to hair relaxer recalls for certain products.

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 cancerovarian canceruterine 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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