Bellwether Plan for Hair Relaxer Lawsuits To Be Proposed By Parties in Federal MDL

A small group of hair relaxer lawsuits will be selected for discovery and prepared for a series of early bellwether trials to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all hair relaxer lawsuits filed by women who developed uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and other injuries allegedly caused by Dark & Lovely, Just for Me and other chemical straighteners, has ordered the parties to present a plan for selecting a group of representative bellwether claims by November 10.

There  are currently more than 250 product liability lawsuit filed against L’Oréal, Strength of Nature, Namaste and other manufacturers, each raising similar allegations that women have not been adequately warned about the link between hair relaxer and cancer.

However, lawyers anticipate thousands of additional cases will be brought in the coming weeks and months, given the widespread use of the chemical hair straighteners, which have been specifically marketed as safe for women in the Black community to use for decades.

Selecting a small group of cases for early hair relaxer bellwether trials is common in complex mass tort litigation, helping the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation, potentially leading to a global settlement agreement or other resolution that would avoid the need for each individual claim to go before a jury.

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Given common questions of fact and law raised in Dark & Lovely lawsuitsJust For Me lawsuits and other claims brought throughout the federal court system, a multidistrict litigation (MDL) was established last year before U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland in the Northern District of Illinois.

Judge Calls for Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Bellwether Plan

Judge Rowland issued an initial scheduling order (PDF) on July 27, outlining the protocols, preliminary deadlines and other details that will move the litigation toward a series bellwether trials.

As part of that order, the Court instructed the parties to work together and submit a bellwether plan by November 10, 2023, which should include a plan to select cases representative of the larger body of litigation, which will then undergo additional discovery.

The order calls for the plan to also include a timeline for discovery and a timeline for narrowing the initial bellwether case pool to a smaller number of trial cases. Those cases will then undergo additional trial discovery, disclosure of expert witnesses, and trial-related motion practices.

To help educate the Court on complex issues that will come up during the litigation, Judge Rowland also indicated that a “Science Day” will be held on November 17, 2023, which will allow each side to make non-adversarial presentations designed to explain issues that will arise during the litigation.

The next status conference is scheduled for August 23.

August 2023 Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Update

Each of the complaints selected for bellwether trials will likely raise similar allegations, indicating women were not adequately warned about the toxic side effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the products, which have been blamed for cases of uterine cancerovarian canceruterine fibroids and other complications.

While the outcomes of any early bellwether trials will not have any binding impact on other claims, the average hair relaxer injury payouts awarded by juries for different types of injury, and against the manufacturers of different specific products, is expected to have a large impact on the amounts of any settlement offers that may be made to avoid the need for each individual case to go before a jury.

If the parties fail to negotiate hair relaxer injury settlements following the MDL proceedings before Judge Rowland, each claim may later be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it originally would have been brought for future trial dates.


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