Hair Relaxer Injury Lawsuits Can Now Be Directly Filed in Federal Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)

Direct filing of lawsuits over hair relaxer injuries in the MDL court is intended to avoid delays associated with transferring cases from U.S. District Courts nationwide, as the litigation continues to grow

The U.S. District Judge recently appointed to preside over all federal hair relaxer injury lawsuits has approved a streamlined process for bringing new complaints, which allows claims to be directly filed in the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL), to avoid delays associated with transferring claims from different federal district courts nationwide.

Following the publication of a new study last year, which highlighted a link between use of hair relaxer and cancer, dozens of product liability lawsuits have been filed throughout the federal court system against the makers of various different chemical straightening products, including Dark & Lovely, Just for Me, Optimum, ORS Olive Oil and other wide used relaxers.

Each of the complaints raise similar allegations, indicating that women were not adequately warned about the toxic side effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the products, which have been blamed for causing cases of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids and other complications. However, as hair relaxer injury lawyers continue to investigate and file lawsuits over the coming months and years, it is ultimately expected that more than tens of thousands of claims will be included in the litigation.

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Given common questions of fact and law involved in each of the claims, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided earlier this year to consolidate and centralize allĀ hair relaxer lawsuits in a Multidistrict Litigation, and appointed U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland to preside over all discovery and pretrial proceedings out of the Northern District of Illinois.

As part of the coordinated management of the litigation, Judge Rowland will preside over discovery into common issues that apply to all claims, and is expected to establish a bellwether process, where small groups of representative hair relaxer injury lawsuits will go through case-specific discovery and be prepared for early trial dates, to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

On March 30, Judge Rowland issued a case management order (PDF), which allows new hair relaxer lawsuits to be directly filed in the MDL court, instead of bringing the complaints in various different U.S. District Courts nationwide and waiting for the files to be transferred to the Northern District of Illinois.

In the coming months, it is also expected the Court will approve a Master Complaint and Short Form Complaint, which will allow new lawsuits to be filed using an abbreviated form that adopts certain allegations that are specific to the individual plaintiff, including the hair relaxing perms used and injury that is alleged to have resulted from use of the product.

This will allow the parties to gather standardized information about each claim, and select a representative group of claims for any future bellwether process and early trial dates.

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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Lawsuits are being pursued for women diagnosed with uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and other injuries diagnosed following long-term use of hair relaxing perms.

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