Plaintiffs Seek To Dismiss Hair Relaxer Lawsuits Involving Women Not Diagnosed with Uterine, Endometrial or Ovarian Cancer

Many hair relaxer lawsuits were filed by women without confirmed cancer diagnoses, due to fears their filings would be blocked by deadlines imposed by the U.S. bankruptcy court.

Attorneys representing women currently pursuing hair relaxer lawsuits are asking the U.S. District Judge overseeing the federal litigation to approve the dismiss of claims without prejudice that involve injuries other than uterine cancer, endometrial cancer or ovarian cancer, which would allow women to refile their claim in the future if they later develop a new diagnosis or injury.

According to a docket report (PDF) released on May 1, there are currently at least 8,468 product liability lawsuits filed by women who indicate that they developed various 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 in January 2023, where U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland has been presiding over coordinated discovery into common issues that impact all claims.

Plaintiffs Seek Dismissal of Some Hair Relaxer Lawsuits

In June 2023, Revlon, a major cosmetics manufacturer named in a number of hair relaxer lawsuits, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which led to a rush of complaints being filed by women who suspected they had uterine, endometrial or ovarian cancer, in hopes of getting their cases submitted before bankruptcy protections blocked their ability to file. Later many of these women discovered they were not diagnosed with one of these three types of cancer, which are the focus of the hair relaxer lawsuit MDL.

On May 14, plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to dismiss cases without prejudice (PDF) for women not diagnosed with ovarian, uterine or endometrial cancer, which would allow the women to refile their claims if they are diagnosed with one of the three forms of cancer in the future.

“These Plaintiffs believed they were under immediate time pressure to file claims even though they had not been able to secure all of the confirming medical records on short notice,” the motion states. “At the time their cases were filed, they believed they were diagnosed with ovarian, uterine, or endometrial cancer, but later learned they had not been.”

The motion indicates that at the time many of these lawsuits were filed, it was also unclear which types of injuries the MDL would be focused on, with some cases involving injuries from uterine fibroids to non-gynecological cancers. However, the plaintiffs point out that it is “highly likely” that some of these plaintiffs will later be diagnosed with one of these three forms of cancer.

“To avoid the extreme result of dismissal with prejudice for women who ultimately will suffer the core injuries covered by this MDL, this Motion seeks the ability of these women, if they later develop the covered claims, to refile if they so choose,” plaintiffs argue. “That outcome -and the unique circumstances of the facts and claims in this litigation – is exactly why the law allows dismissals without prejudice.”

May 2024 Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Update

While it is unclear how many lawsuits may be pending that do not involve uterine cancer, endometrial cancer or ovarian cancer, plaintiffs leadership in the MDL has indicated that it is only able to provide expert witness testimony supporting that these three injuries are caused by use of hair relaxers.

To help gauge the strengths and weaknesses of this evidence, the parties proposed competing draft hair relaxer lawsuit bellwether trial plans in November 2023, which outlined a process for selecting a small group of bellwether cases, which will go 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 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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