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JPML Told Lawsuits Over Cancer from Hair Relaxer Will Be Filed By Women Nationwide in 2023
At a hearing before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) this week, lawyers indicated that a rapidly growing number of lawsuits over cancer from hair relaxer products will be filed throughout the federal court system in 2023, calling for the litigation to be centralized before one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
L’Oreal and other hair relaxer manufacturers already face dozens of Dark & Lovely lawsuits, Just for Me lawsuits and other claims alleging exposure to chemicals contained in the chemical hair straighteners caused Black women to develop uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and other injuries. However, plaintiffs’ lawyers indicate they are investigating thousands of additional claims, and the pace of filed hair relaxer lawsuits in 2023 will increase dramatically.
The litigation emerged after a study was published the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in October 2022, which found that regular users of chemical straighteners face an increased risk of uterine cancer from hair relaxers. According to the findings, the rate of uterine cancer was nearly three times higher for women who used hair relaxer products than among those who did not use the products.
Over the months after publication of the study, at least 40 women filed a hair relaxer uterine cancer lawsuit, ovarian cancer lawsuit or claims alleging they developed uterine fibroids following the use of popular products like Dark & Lovely, Optimum, Just for Me, ORS Olive Oil, Motions and others. However, that likely represents only the tip of the iceberg for what may be filed over the rest of this year.
Thousands of Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuits on the Horizon
Late last year, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion with the U.S. JPML to establish a hair relaxer MDL (multidistrict litigation), which would transfer the claims to one U.S. District Judge who would preside over coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings, and oral arguments were held by the panel at the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami, Florida on January 26, 2023.
While manufacturers of the hair relaxer products opposed consolidation, arguing that the litigation includes too many different products and diseases to warrant coordination before one judge, over a half dozen lawyers representing plaintiffs presented arguments or filed responses in support of centralization.
“Consolidation is appropriate given the forty plus similar actions already pending, and the likelihood that additional case filings will continue to accumulate in the coming months and years. Consolidation now will avoid widespread waste of party and judicial resources that would best be used in proceedings before a single judge,” according to one response in support (PDF) filed on January 19. “Duplicative discovery will be eliminated and there will be no risk of inconsistent judicial rulings.”
Plaintiffs noted that the chemical hair relaxer products have been on the market since the 1970s, and were aimed first at Black women, who were made to feel ashamed of the natural curliness of their hair. In the 90s, they began marketing some products specifically at young black women, like Just For Me, after discovering they often began using hair straightener products as a child. However, according to the growing science around hair straighteners, this may increase their risk of cancer due to long-term exposure to the chemicals.
According to another brief in support (PDF) filed by lawyers for Elizabeth Thompson on January 3, the size of the hair relaxer litigation in 2023 will continue to increase, given the large percentage of Black women who are now frequent users of the products, and the high incidence of uterine cancer and ovarian cancer.
“Plaintiff is one of the thousands of women who have developed endocrine-related cancers after frequent use of Chemical Hair Relaxers,” the brief states. “She, like Plaintiffs in other pending actions, seeks compensation for the damages associated with her endocrine-related cancer based on common law theories such as negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability and statutory remedies relating to products liability and consumer protection.”
The U.S. JPML is expected to issue a decision next week about whether all hair relaxer lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system will be transferred to one U.S. District Court for coordinated management, and which venue will be the most appropriate and convenient for the parties, witnesses and judicial system.
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SherillJanuary 31, 2023 at 12:59 pm
This information is greatly appreciated. As I and so many others, ill-affected by the use of Hair Relaxers, continue to read and become more educated on the matter, we will ideally be able to protect many others from injury. Sharing this life-saving information can help prevent the use of such harmful products.
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