Lawyers Argue Class Action Lawsuits Over Toxic Hair Relaxer Chemicals Should Be Cleared To Move Forward

Defendants' motion to dismiss hair relaxer chemical class action lawsuits is inconsistent with the law, plaintiffs' attorneys argue.

Lawyers representing women nationwide who were exposed to an increased risk of cancer from toxic hair relaxer products in recent years, are asking the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation to reject an effort by the cosmetic manufacturers to dismiss claims being pursued in class action lawsuits, indicating that the companies are just rehashing “failed arguments” already rejected by the Court.

According to a docket report (PDF) released on March 1, there are currently at least 8,334 product liability lawsuits filed by women who indicate that they developed uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, fibroids or other injuries that were caused by exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in Dark & Lovely, Just for Me, Optimum, ORS Olive Oil and other chemical hair straighteners that have been frequently used by African American women for decades.

The litigation emerged in late 2022, 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.

As a result of those findings, women throughout the U.S. began filing Dark & Lovely lawsuitsJust for Me lawsuits and similar claims against the makers of other popular hair relaxers, as well as hair relaxer class action lawsuits seeking financial compensation and medical monitoring, each raising similar allegations that a desire for profits was placed before the health of consumers.


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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.

Motion to Dismiss Hair Relaxer Class Action Lawsuit

In early February, defendants filed a motion to dismiss class action lawsuits over the toxic hair relaxer chemicals, arguing that the claims for economic harm are preempted by federal law, and that plaintiffs have not filed sufficient claim of injury, and that they lack standing to file a nationwide class action.

On March 11 plaintiffs entered a response (PDF) to the motion to dismiss, indicating that the arguments being put forward by defendants have already been addressed by the Court, and should be rejected.

“In the present Complaint, Plaintiffs again allege that Defendants’ hair relaxer products are toxic and carcinogenic, with scientific studies showing higher risks of ovarian and uterine cancer associated with use of those products,” the response states. “However, Defendants argue this motion almost as if this Court’s prior motion-to-dismiss ruling does not exist; their memorandum in support of their motion to dismiss contains almost no discussion of it at all and rehashes failed arguments from their prior motion.”

Plaintiffs indicate defendants’ positions are inconsistent with the law, and note in a previous ruling against a motion to dismiss, the Court pointed out that it is required to look at the complaint “in the light most favorable to the plaintiff”, noting that detailed, factual allegations are not required for the complaint to move forward.

They argue that the hair relaxer class action lawsuits have been adequately pled, and that the claim of economic damages is sufficient.

The Court has yet to rule on the defendants’ motion. However, even if the class action lawsuits were dismissed, it would not affect thousands of personal injury claims filed against the manufacturers.

March 2024 Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Update

In November, parties proposed competing draft hair relaxer lawsuit bellwether trial plans, which outlined a process for selecting potential bellwether cases and putting them through case-specific discovery in preparation for early trial dates. However, the parties have been unable to agree on several key points regarding the bellwether selections, as well as when the first trials should begin, and how big a factor general causation should play in the early phases of the litigation.

Following a hair relaxer lawsuit status conference held last week, it is expected that Judge Rowland will issue a case management order establishing how the litigation will move forward.

While the stated intention of bellwether trials is to identify the most representative lawsuits, parties in complex litigation often jockey to make selections that are most beneficial to their side, as the average hair relaxer lawsuit payouts will have a substantial impact on the amount of money the manufacturers may be required to pay to avoid the need for thousands of individual cases to go before separate juries 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, endometrial 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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