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Short Form Complaint For Filing New Hair Relaxer Lawsuits Approved in MDL
The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal hair relaxer lawsuits has approved a Short Form Complaint, which is designed to streamline the process for filing new claims involving uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and other injuries caused by the chemical straighteners.
Over the past year, at least 236 Dark & Lovely lawsuits, Just for Me lawsuits and other claims have been brought against the makers of popular hair perm kits, each raising similar allegations that women were not adequately warned about the toxic side effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the products.
However, as hair relaxer lawyers continue to investigate and review claims, it is expected that the size and scope of the litigation will increase rapidly over the coming months, and it is ultimately expected that tens of thousands of women will file a lawsuit.
Given common questions of fact and law involved in the claims, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided earlier this year 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.
Short-Form Complaints Allow Direct Filing of New Hair Relaxer Lawsuits
In March, Judge Rowland issued an order which allowed 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 cases to be transferred to the Northern District of Illinois.
Plaintiffs filed a master hair relaxer complaint in May, outlining all of the allegations raised in each of the individual complaints, which will be used by the parties and the court during pretrial proceedings.
In a case management order (PDF) issued on August 3, Judge Rowland agreed to adopt a Short Form Complaint, which will be filed in every action in the hair relaxer MDL, identifying the specific products and injuries involved in the claim, and adopting specific claims from the master complaint that are relevant for each plaintiff.
All newly filed cases will use the Short Form for direct filing with the MDL. However, for cases filed prior to the approval, Judge Rowland indicated that plaintiffs will have 75 days to submit their claim using the Short Form Complaint.
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 a master complaint and short form complaint to be used to help the parties and the court evaluate the inventory of claims and select representative claims for early “bellwether” trials to gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the 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 uterine 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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