Major beauty companies that make chemical hair relaxers are sued by women claiming that their products contain cancer-causing chemicals. These products have been found to double a woman’s risk of uterine cancer and increase her risk of developing breast cancer, uterine fibroids, and other serious reproductive health issues. Instead of cautioning consumers, beauty companies have not issued recalls or placed warning labels on their products.
The plaintiffs in the hair relaxer lawsuits have filed a motion requesting that their individual claims be consolidated into a single multidistrict litigation. There is a hearing to determine whether or not that request should be granted. On January 26th, 2023, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will hear arguments from both sides in order to render a decision.
What a Multidistrict Litigation Means for the Hair Straightener Cancer Lawsuits
Multidistrict litigations combine claims based on similar sets of facts among plaintiffs who have similar injuries. In this case, that means that the plaintiffs bringing these claims are all accusing the makers of chemical hair relaxers of being negligent for their failure to warn their customers about the carcinogens in their products. They also report similar injuries, including breast cancer and uterine cancer.
Plaintiffs and Beauty Companies Disagree Over Consolidation
The defendants named in these claims, including L’Oreal, SoftSheen, Strength of Nature, House of Cheatham, and Namasté Laboratories, strongly oppose an MDL. Their representatives pointed out that the research the plaintiffs are relying on does not name specific brands or products.
They argue that numerous companies would be named in the MDL, but they are not all necessarily liable for the injuries caused since a specific brand or product has not been identified as the culprit. Further, they argue that the number of plaintiffs -which has grown to 100 and is expected to increase- is insufficient to warrant an MDL.
The plaintiffs believe that an MDL would appropriately bring similar claims together and allow individual plaintiffs a greater chance of recovering damages because they could share resources. If the courts agreed to proceed with a multidistrict litigation, the plaintiffs could coordinate their discovery efforts. That means that instead of each person trying to collect their own evidence to prove that repeated, long-term use of a chemical hair relaxer made by one of the defendants caused their cancer or other injuries, they could all work together. Additionally, they would still be able to receive compensation that reflects their specific circumstances.
NIH Study Warns Women That Chemical Hair Relaxers Increase Cancer Risk
These product liability lawsuits emerged after a study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute where NIH researchers discovered an alarming connection between chemical hair relaxers and uterine cancer. This work builds on past research that linked chemical hair straighteners to an increased risk of breast cancer. The NIH researchers reported that women who used some type of chemical hair straightener 4 or more times a year are doubling their risk of uterine cancer.
For context, it is not uncommon for many Black women to straighten their hair multiple times a year, and some do so for decades. That means that some women are absorbing carcinogenic chemicals every three months for years, which causes the toxic chemicals to accumulate in their bodies. These chemicals cause cancer by falsely inflating estrogen levels, leading to uncontrollable cell growth in the reproductive system, which is regulated by estrogen.
Thus far, the injuries associated with repeated chemical hair relaxer use include:
- Uterine fibroids
- Uterine sarcoma
- Uterine cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Breast cancer
Higher Usage Rates Increases Risk of Cancer for Black Women
They also note that Black women, who tend to use these products more frequently to straighten their natural curls, are at an increased risk of developing cancer. In the data the NIH researchers examined, 60% of the women who reported heavy usage of these products identified as Black. Black women are already more likely to die from uterine cancer compared to women from other racial groups, so this finding is especially concerning.
Damages Available in a Hair Straightener Cancer Lawsuit
In a product liability lawsuit, plaintiffs make a claim for damages, or losses, that they argue resulted from the defendant’s negligence. It is the job of their personal injury lawyer to provide evidence to show that the defendant is liable for the damages, and then demonstrate the monetary value of both financial and intangible losses. While the courts can decide to impose punitive damages, those are intended to deter the defendant and others in their industry from exhibiting similar negligence.
Compensatory damages, on the other hand, deal specifically with reimbursing the plaintiff for the losses they have sustained as a result of their injuries. There are two types. Economic damages are generally straightforward, as they can be validated by showing a medical bill, pay stub, or other receipts. Non-economic damages are calculated subjectively and evidence can be more difficult to supply. They are meant to provide compensation for emotional losses, like losing the ability to have children.
Examples of Damages in a Hair Straightener Cancer Lawsuit:
- Medical bills
- Hormone therapy
- Hospital stays
- Job-related losses
- Lost wages
- Missed promotions
- Reduced earning capacity
- Loss of quality of life
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Wrongful death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of services and support
- Loss of parent guidance
Demonstrating Liability to Secure Compensation in a Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuit
Consumers have certain rights when it comes to products, especially those that are meant to be applied to the body or consumed. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration is dedicated to vetting these types of products to ensure that they comply with safety standards. In some cases, companies deliberately omit evidence that their products are dangerous, or fail to engage in thorough testing that would reveal certain risks to consumers. The product liability lawsuits accuse makers of chemical hair relaxers of violating their duty of care to consumers on two counts.
Chemical Hair Relaxer Makers Like L’Oreal Were Negligent in Their Duty of Care
First, they have a responsibility to design a product that won’t harm consumers when it is used as instructed. The presence of carcinogens in their hair care products that are intended to be used adjective to skin fails to meet this standard. Additionally, makers of chemical hair straighteners have an obligation to warn consumers of the risks that are associated with their products. No such warning labels for increased cancer risk exist on the chemical hair relaxers named in these claims. Based on these breaches of duty of care, the plaintiffs argue that they are liable for their injuries and the damages they incurred as a result.
There is a statute of limitations for product liability claims that may influence your case, so it is in your best interest to begin the claims process as soon as possible by hiring a personal injury attorney. A personal injury lawyer will help you establish liability and demonstrate the value of your damages. We encourage you to schedule a free consultation with one of our product liability attorneys where we can help you calculate what your hair relaxer cancer lawsuit’s worth and craft a strategy to secure a fair settlement.