Federal Judge Rejects Motion to Dismiss from Defendants in Chemical Hair Relaxer MDL

Federal Judge Rejects Motion to Dismiss from Defendants in Chemical Hair Relaxer MDL

Chemical hair relaxers are staple products in American households and beauty salons that promise a long-lasting and desirable hairstyle. However, these ubiquitous personal care items contain highly potent and hazardous substances known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to certain hormone-related illnesses such as endometrial and uterine cancer.

In an effort to hold the manufacturers of chemical hair relaxers to account, over 8,200 consumers across the country have filed product liability lawsuits in federal court. After the creation of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in February 2023, prominent personal care companies have attempted to derail the proceedings, which included a sweeping motion to dismiss predicated on shaky legal arguments. 

The court’s presiding judge, Mary Rowland, recently dismissed in part and granted in part the defendants’ motion. Although the court ruling resulted in the rejection of plaintiffs’ fraud charges and the dismissal of two international defendants, it preserved the bulk of the prosecution’s case. 

Court Ruling Affirms Plaintiffs’ Chemical Hair Relaxer Product Liability Claims 

The defendants’ joint motion to dismiss argued that the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) overrode the state-specific statutes under which plaintiffs filed suit. However, Judge Rowland cited case law to affirm the inapplicability of the FDCA in the context of product liability litigation of the sort pending before the court. Likewise, she rejected the efforts of the defense to argue that the FDCA provisions nevertheless applied to the non-product liability charges outlined in plaintiffs’ master long-form complaint. 

Moreover, Judge Rowland objected to defendants’ allegations that the plaintiffs failed to outline the “specific products or defects in those products”. The ruling reaffirmed the legal legitimacy of the design defect charge advanced by plaintiffs, which assumes a critical role in the product liability framework. The master long form complaint, Rowland states, clearly “allege[s] that Defendants’ products contained toxic chemicals” which “significantly increase[d] the risk of cancers”. 

Another major dispute that Rowland’s ruling resolved involved plaintiffs’ allegation that the defendants failed to warn users of the risks they incurred from the use of chemical hair straighteners. The motion to dismiss sought to eliminate the charge by asserting that plaintiffs did “not identify specific products or timeframes”. The court’s response rebukes the argument and states that governing case law does not require dismissal under such circumstances. 

Overall, Judge Rowland’s ruling preserves plaintiffs’ primary charges, including: 

The ruling does not constitute a determination of guilt or amount to a conviction. Instead, it refines the permissible charges that plaintiffs can pursue in court and for which they can seek compensation. 

Fraud Charges and Two International Defendants Dismissed in Hair Relaxer Lawsuits

Although Judge Rowland’s ruling by and large salvaged the most serious charges leveled against the hair relaxer lawsuit defendants, she did grant the latter’s request to dismiss the fraud charges. Citing plaintiffs’ failure to satisfy the stringent legal standards to prove fraudulence, the court ruling relieved the defense of responding to “alleged misrepresentations”. 

Additionally, two defendants, Dabur International Limited and Dermovia Skin Essentials, Inc., were excused from the chemical hair relaxer MDL. Judge Rowland argues in her ruling that the court lacks appropriate jurisdiction to adjudicate the allegedly irresponsible activity of the international companies. 

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Name-Brand Chemical Hair Straighteners

Despite the popularity of chemical hair relaxers, clinical studies have only recently revealed the presence of toxic substances in these personal care mainstays. The primary group of hazardous chemicals in hair straighteners include endocrine disruptors. 

Illnesses Linked to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are diverse substances that heavily impact the body’s hormonal system and balance. By influencing the production, secretion, and reception of crucial hormones, EDCs have the potential not only to affect the reproductive system but also increase an individual’s risk factor for developing a variety of cancers, including: 

Common Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Even more alarming is the extent to which prominent manufacturers of chemical hair relaxers concealed the presence of EDCs in their products. For example, an informational publication from the New York State Health Department warned consumers of the potential for supposedly organic products to contain EDCs, including: 

2022 NIH Study Discovers Carcinogenic Properties in Hair Relaxers

The chief impetus for the ongoing chemical hair relaxer lawsuits was a research study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), published in October 2022. The research was the most comprehensive investigation of the causal link between prolonged and high-volume chemical hair relaxer use and a variety of cancers. 

Relying on data from the Sister Study, the NIH discovered that users of popular hair straighteners had an increased risk of developing uterine cancer in comparison to non-users. The revelatory study prompted a sharp uptick in scrutiny surrounding the products, particularly because of their prominence in minority populations in the United States. 

As the plaintiffs allege in their master long form complaint, the manufacturers of chemical hair relaxers targeted “Black and Brown women, including Black and Brown teenagers and children”. Following the emergence of related lawsuits, congress members implored the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate the harmful personal care products. Later, in October 2023, the agency unveiled a proposed ban on chemical hair straighteners containing the carcinogen formaldehyde. 

Federal Judicial Panels Establishes Chemical Hair Straightener MDL

In November 2022, a small number of plaintiffs filed a request for case consolidation with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML). The federal panel accepts and adjudicates petitions for the creation of multidistrict litigations (MDLs). In contrast to class action lawsuits, MDLs involve the consolidation of common cases and claims for pretrial proceedings, including the discovery process and settlement negotiations. 

After hearings in January of the following year, the JPML granted plaintiffs’ request and established a chemical hair relaxer MDL located in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The panel also designated Judge Mary Rowland to preside over the sweeping litigation. As of November 2023, the number of plaintiffs participating in the MDL had swelled to 8,200. 

An additional and crucial component of multidistrict litigation is the bellwether trial process, in which the court selects representative cases to be sent to trial. Bellwether cases reveal the receptiveness of juries to the charges and arguments advanced by participating parties and typically tripwire and guide pretrial settlement negotiations. 

Pursuant to Case Management Order No. 6, the court-approved Plaintiffs’ Leadership Council proposed the criteria and scheduling for these bellwether trials. Although the November court filing has yet to receive approval from Judge Rowland, plaintiffs aim to initiate the experimental trials in November 2025. 

Common Damages in Chemical Hair Relaxer Lawsuits

Receiving a life-changing or life-threatening diagnosis can upend an individual’s peace of mind and well-being. Medical bills and doctor’s appointments inevitably place immense financial strain on entire households and require tremendous readjustments. All the while, the ensuing stress and emotional strife may become unmanageable or unbearable. 

Fortunately, plaintiffs in the active chemical hair relaxer lawsuits reserve the right not only to seek accountability but compensation for the serious injuries they sustained in the form of economic and noneconomic damages addressing: 

  • Medical costs – past, present, and future
  • Lost wages and income 
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of consortium 
  • Wrongful death

Contact an Experienced Chemical Hair Relaxer Lawyer for Your Product Liability Claim Today 

L’Oréal, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, and others knew or should have known of the serious risks their chemical hair relaxers posed. Moreover, they had a duty to warn consumers and loyal customers of the dangers. Unfortunately, the manufacturers held their tongues and withheld vital information which could have prevented incalculable suffering. 

That is why our qualified chemical hair relaxer lawyers are on standby to provide assistance, advice, and counsel to hold these irresponsible corporations to account for their malfeasance. In a free consultation, we can explain your rights, assess the eligibility of your claim, and estimate the compensation to which you and your loved ones may be entitled. 

With over 120 combined years of personal injury law experience and extensive familiarity with the complexities of participating in an MDL, we offer the individualized treatment of a small firm with the resources and influence of a nationwide practice. Given the recent approval of plaintiffs’ master complaint, prospective litigants can more easily enroll in the ongoing hair straightener uterine cancer lawsuits and get the justice they deserve for the injuries they did not. 

For more information, consider contacting us today. 


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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