Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Updates | May 2024

Editorial Team


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 10 mins

Hair relaxers are chemical hair straightening products that are under scrutiny because of harmful chemicals present in their formula.

Toxic chemicals like formaldehyde are harmful when exposed to the scalp, skin, and respiratory system. Affected people are taking legal action against manufacturers. There are numerous ongoing lawsuits across the country. Here’s some legal updates to be aware of:

  1. Plaintiffs' lawyers request the court's permission to dismiss certain cancer-related cases without prejudice, allowing them to be refiled later. These cases involve plaintiffs who initially believed they had ovarian, uterine, or endometrial cancer but later found out they did not. Many lawsuits were hastily filed due to Revlon's bankruptcy rules, which required victims to file or lose their right to sue. Attorneys now seek dismissal without prejudice to avoid being barred from refiling if these plaintiffs develop the covered cancers in the future.

  2. The court today demanded defendants clarify Maura Grossman's lack of conflicts in her proposed role as special master. They must provide their attorney's name, law firm, and details of defendants involved in unrelated TAR discussions with Grossman.

    Additionally, outcomes of the hair relaxer lawsuits might pivot more on the absence of proactive responses to potential carcinogenic risks than on direct evidence.

  3. The hair relaxer class action MDL experienced a sluggish April, with only 81 new cases added—up from 53 in March but still far below the high of 3,000 cases added in a single month last year. The total number of pending cases now stands at 8,468.

  4. Hair relaxer class action MDL appears to have exited its growth phase, with just 53 new cases added in the past month. This continuation of a five-month trend of declining new case volumes suggests a plateau. The MDL currently comprises 8,387 pending lawsuits.

  5. In a recent ruling, the court dismissed L’Oréal's attempt to reconsider a discovery order involving its foreign affiliate, L’Oréal S.A., over the production of documents related to hair relaxer lawsuits. Despite L’Oréal's objections based on alleged factual inaccuracies and concerns over violating the French blocking statute, the court found their arguments unconvincing, granting only an extension for logistical coordination between L’Oréal USA and L’Oréal S.A. The pursuit for potentially revealing documents continues amidst speculation about L’Oréal's resistance to disclosure.

  6. In the hair relaxer MDL, discussions in February led to the appointment of retired Judge Paul Grimm as Special Master to assist with resolving technical disputes. While both parties agreed on Grimm, defendants are pushing for a monthly fee cap of $10,000, equating to about 13 hours at $750 per hour, to control costs—a move plaintiffs oppose. Additionally, the MDL grew by 117 cases in February, bringing the total to 8,334 federal lawsuits.

  7. The hair relaxer litigation is intensifying with lawyers battling over the production of documents. A hearing was held by Judge Sheila M. Finnegan to discuss hiring a Special Master with expertise in Electronic Stored Information (ESI).

  8. The hair relaxer class action MDL has added 191 new cases in January 2024, bringing the total to 8,217 pending cases. This establishes a new average volume, contrasting with the previous surge of 2,000 to 3,000 new cases per month observed last summer.

  9. As of January 15, 2024, there has been a notable increase in the hair relaxer Multi-District Litigation (MDL):

    • New Case Additions: In the past month, 42 new cases have been filed.
    • Total Pending Cases: The MDL now comprises a total of 8,026 pending cases.
  10. In a significant development in the MDL class action process, initial bellwether trials have been scheduled:

    First Trial Date: The initial bellwether trial is set for November 3, 2025.

    Second Trial Date: A subsequent trial is planned for February 2, 2026.

    While these dates may appear far off, they are typical in the timeline of complex MDL class actions. Understandably, this lengthy process can be a source of frustration for both plaintiffs and lawyers. However, the scheduling of these bellwether trials plays a crucial role:

    Pressure on Defendants: The approach of trial dates often creates a sense of urgency for defendants to consider settlement offers.

    Potential for Early Settlements: There is hope that reasonable compensation will be extended to victims well before these trials commence.

    Significance of Bellwether Trials: These initial trials serve as test cases, offering vital insights into jury reactions to presented evidence and arguments. The outcomes can significantly influence settlement negotiations for the remaining cases within the MDL, with substantial verdicts often correlating to larger overall settlement values.

  11. The hair relaxer class action Multi-District Litigation (MDL) saw a notable decrease in its growth rate, with only 17 new cases added over the last month. This marks a significant drop compared to the average of over 2,000 new cases per month observed since the summer. Currently, the MDL stands at 7,984 pending cases, and this recent decline may indicate that the growth phase for hair relaxer cases is nearing its end.

  12. Attorneys representing plaintiffs in the hair relaxer Multi-District Litigation (MDL) are petitioning the court for an 11% holdback from the compensation awarded to plaintiffs. This proposed figure is substantial, reflecting the significant efforts and resources invested by the legal teams in the case.

  13. During Friday's status conference for the hair relaxer class action MDL, overseen by Judge Mary M. Rowland in Illinois, several important developments emerged:

    New Briefing Schedule: Judge Rowland requested the parties to establish a consensus on a revised briefing schedule for a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, with a deadline set for November 28, 2023.

    Science Day Scheduling Conflict: There is ongoing contention regarding the scheduling of Science Day. Parties are required to present their arguments in cross briefs by December 6, 2023.

    Case Management Order (CMO) Progress: The parties are actively collaborating on a CMO concerning the Plaintiffs’ Fact Sheets and Records Authorizations and will notify the court upon its finalization.

    Update on State Court Lawsuits: Defendants provided an update on similar lawsuits in state courts, though no specific court action was requested.

    Document Production for International Sales: For products sold outside the U.S., cross briefs are due by December 6, 2023. Additionally, Revlon is required to clarify its discovery stance by November 27, 2023.

    Document Production Deadlines: Revlon must respond to two Requests for Production by December 15, 2023. Similarly, Avalon is expected to provide a complete ingredient list in response to the Plaintiffs’ Interrogatory 6 by the same date.

    ESI Discovery Referred to Magistrate Judge: The court has referred all Electronic Stored Information (ESI) discovery and related disputes to Magistrate Judge Finnegan, without mandating the defendants to reveal all systems used during the relevant timeframe.

  14. The hair relaxer class action Multi-District Litigation (MDL) has experienced a dramatic increase in case volume, now approaching nearly 8,000 pending cases. In the last month alone, an additional 2,000 cases were added to the MDL. This surge in litigation activity has seen an average of around 500 new cases being filed each week since the end of August, marking a significant escalation from just 21 cases recorded back in February. This rapid growth underscores the expanding reach and intensifying nature of the legal proceedings in this MDL.

  15. Judge Mary Rowland has delivered a significant ruling in the ongoing class action lawsuit against major hair relaxer manufacturers. Contrary to the defendants' expectations, the MDL judge has rejected their motion to dismiss, particularly dismissing their preemption argument. This decision affirms that federal law does not override the plaintiffs' state law claims, including those pertaining to negligence and product liability.

    Although the court did dismiss the fraud claims for not meeting the specificity required by Rule 9(b), it has allowed the progression of claims related to unfair practices. Notably, the potential for punitive damages remains a part of the lawsuit, significantly influencing its settlement value. Additionally, claims under state law warranties and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act have been deemed sufficient to proceed. This ruling marks a crucial victory, reinforcing the momentum of the litigation as it moves forward.

  16. In the ongoing hair relaxer litigation, the leadership team has proposed an 11% deduction from the gross settlement or verdict amount in every case associated with the hair relaxer lawsuits. This proposed holdback is structured with two distinct allocations: 8% is intended to cover the costs of common benefit work undertaken by the attorneys, and the remaining 3% is aimed at reimbursing expenses incurred for the same. While this proposal raises questions about the appropriateness of the percentage being earmarked, it's important to clarify that this deduction impacts only the portion of the fees that go to the lawyers spearheading the litigation. It does not affect the actual compensation amount that plaintiffs will receive for their individual hair relaxer cancer claims.

  17. In light of the surge in cancer lawsuits linked to hair relaxers, the FDA has stepped forward with a proposal to outlaw formaldehyde in all hair relaxing products. Historically prevalent in numerous hair straightening formulations, formaldehyde is recognized for its toxicity and potential to induce various cancers, leukemia included. It's crucial to note, though, that formaldehyde hasn't been connected to ovarian or uterine cancers, the primary focus of the current wave of hair relaxer litigation.

  18. The momentum is building in the hair relaxer class action arena, confirming our initial projections. An astounding 3,752 new cases were introduced to the MDL over the past month alone, escalating the current tally of ongoing lawsuits within the hair relaxer MDL to 5,996. This surge is particularly striking when considering that back in June 2023, the figure hovered at under 200 pending cases.

  19. In the recent MDL status conference, Judge Rowland delivered her decisions on a series of contested discovery issues, primarily ruling in the plaintiffs' favor. Her directives included mandating the defendants to furnish documents beyond their immediate physical possession and dismissing their resistance to disclosing materials related to patents. Conversely, the sole resolution favoring the defendants was the denial of the plaintiffs' demand for litigation hold letters. The judge has set a strict deadline of November 23, 2023, for the submission of the disputed documents.

  20. As the hair relaxer class action continues to explode with new cases, a major early discovery battle appears to be developing between the plaintiffs and the defendants. Last week, all of the hair relaxer defendants jointly submitted a brief to the MDL Judge detailing various discovery disputes and issues that have arisen. The joint submission details various complaints that the defense has with the discovery requests propounded by the plaintiffs. In short, the defendants are complaining that the plaintiffs are asking for everything under the sun. The issues will be addressed at the MDL status conference set for today.

  21. In February 2023, there were 24 new cases filed in federal courts, with most filed in the Northern District of Illinois. The lawsuits allege that hair relaxer products caused various health issues, including cancer.

  22. Since the start of February, 11 more hair relaxer product liability lawsuits have been filed in federal courts. Seven of the cases were filed in the Northern District of Illinois. The remaining four were filed in districts nationwide but will all be transferred into the new hair relaxer class action MDL.

  23. In the same month, a class action lawsuit was formed, consolidating multiple individual cases. This will allow plaintiffs to combine their efforts and resources to take on the large corporations involved in the manufacture and distribution of hair relaxer products.

  24. A new lawsuit was filed in Missouri against several companies alleging that their hair care products led to regular and prolonged exposure to phthalates and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The plaintiff worked in a hair salon and was diagnosed with endometrial carcinoma a few months prior to the filing of the lawsuit.

  25. This early case was filed in federal court in Chicago by Jenny Mitchell, a Missouri resident who used chemical hair relaxers her entire life. She started using hair relaxers at 10 years old and was diagnosed with uterine cancer at the age of 28. This was one of the first cases to allege that the manufacturers knew or should have known that the chemicals in their products could increase the risk of uterine cancer.

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