Direct Filing of Hair Relaxer Lawsuits in Federal MDL To Be Proposed By Parties

Parties have until March 31 to submit a proposed order that would allow plaintiffs to file new hair relaxer lawsuits directly in the MDL.

The U.S. District Judge presiding over the coordinated pretrial proceedings in all federal hair relaxer lawsuits has called for parties to submit a proposed order by the end of March, which would create a streamlined process for filing new complaints over uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and other ailments caused by use of chemical straighteners.

Over the past few months, a steadily growing number of Dark & Lovely lawsuitsJust for Me lawsuits and other claims have been brought against the makers of popular hair perm kits commonly used by Black women, alleging that inadequate warnings have been provided about the toxic side effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the products.

As hair relaxer lawyers continue to investigate and review claims, it is expected that the size and scope of the litigation will increase rapidly throughout 2023, and it is ultimately expected that thousands of women will file a lawsuit.

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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 last month to consolidate and centralize all hair relaxer lawsuits as part of an MDL, or 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, it is expected that Judge Rowland will establish a bellwether process, where small groups of representative injury claims 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.

Judge Calls for Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Direct Filing Order

In complex product liability lawsuits, where large numbers of individuals are pursuing similar claims and allegations, it is common for the Court to approve a Master and Short Form Complaint, where plaintiffs can then file future lawsuits through an abbreviated form, where they adopt allegations that are relevant to their specific claim.

At a case management conference held earlier this month, Judge Rowland asked the parties to work together to draft a direct filing order, which is the first step in the process of creating a Master and Short Form Complaint, allowing plaintiffs to file lawsuits directly with the MDL court instead of having to wait to have them transferred from various different U.S. District Courts nationwide.

In a joint status report (PDF) submitted on March 10, plaintiffs indicate that they will provide a draft Direct Filing Order to defendants by March 13. The parties will then confer and submit either an agreed-to proposed order by March 31, 2023, or they will each file respective proposals if an agreement can not be reached about the streamlined process for bringing new hair relaxer lawsuits.

In complex product liability cases, where a large number of claims are filed throughout the federal court system by individuals who suffered similar injuries as a result of the same or similar products, it is common for the federal court system to centralize the litigation for pretrial proceedings. The use of a direct filing order to create a Master and Short Form complaint streamlines the filing process, reducing delays in pretrial proceedings and allowing the Court to rule on standardized allegations and claims that apply to a number of claims.

Following the MDL proceedings and any early bellwether trials scheduled by Judge Rowland, if the parties fail to negotiate hair relaxer settlements for individuals diagnosed with cancer and other injuries, the Court 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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1 Comments

  • LeslieMarch 14, 2023 at 5:25 pm

    Hello my name is Leslie and I have always used the relaxers I stopped a few years ago because my hair had fallen out and I also had a hysterectomy done at a young age

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