Manufacturers Seek Dismissal of Hair Relaxer Class Action Lawsuit Over Uterine Cancer and Ovarian Cancer Risks

Motion to dismiss argues that the hair relaxer class action lawsuit does not involve plaintiffs who suffered an actual injury, and that the claims are preempted by federal law.

The manufacturers of Dark & Lovely, Just for Me, Optimum and other popular chemical straighteners have filed a motion to dismiss a consolidated hair relaxer class action lawsuit, which seeks economic damages for all consumers who claim they were unwittingly exposed to a risk of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and other injuries, even if they have not been diagnosed with any specific health problems.

The motion comes in response to a consolidated complaint filed by plaintiffs in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL), which also includes thousands of individual hair relaxer uterine cancer lawsuits, ovarian cancer lawsuits and uterine fibroid lawsuits brought by women who claim they developed devastating injuries caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals in the products. However, the consumer class action seeks economic damages for all purchasers of the toxic hair relaxers.

The litigation emerged late last year, following the publication of a study that highlighted a link between hair relaxers and uterine cancer, finding that women who regularly used the products face a 156% increased risk compared to women who did not relax their hair. Lawsuits now seek financial compensation for former users, indicating that manufacturers knew or should have known about the hair relaxer cancer risk, yet placed their desire for profits before the health and safety of women.

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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, for coordinated discovery and a series of early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will apply to a large number of claims.

Defendants Seek to Dismiss Hair Relaxer Class Action Lawsuit

On February 5, defendants filed a motion to dismiss hair relaxer class action lawsuits (PDF), claiming that damages of economic harm are preempted by federal law. They also argue that plaintiffs have not filed sufficient claim of injury, and that they lack standing to file a nationwide class action.

“Plaintiffs are residents of only seventeen different states, yet they assert fraud, consumer protection, breach of warranty and unjust enrichment claims on behalf of residents of the other thirty-three states, as well as U.S. territories,” the motion states. “Similarly, Plaintiffs seeking medical monitoring costs are residents of just six states, but assert products liability claims on behalf of individuals residing in thirteen jurisdictions.”

Even if the motion is successful, it will still leave the manufacturers facing thousands of individual hair relaxer injury lawsuits filed nationwide.

February 2024 Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Update

Judge Rowland indicated early in the litigation that the court will establish a bellwether process, where a small group of representative lawsuits involving different products and specific injuries will be prepared for early trial dates, which will help the parties weigh the strengths and weaknesses of their positions and promote settlement negotiations.

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.

While the outcome of these test trials will not have any impact on other Dark & Lovely lawsuitsJust for Me lawsuits and claims filed against the manufacturers of other products, the average amounts of jury awards may promote potential hair relaxer settlements that could avoid the need for thousands of individual claims to go to trial 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.

Image Credit: Kelly Heck Photography

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