At least 250 product liability lawsuits have been filed in federal court and attorneys are prepared for many more as black women nationwide become aware of allegations that hair relaxer consumers were not properly warned about the link between these products and cancer. U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland is currently working with defendants and plaintiffs to determine a schedule for coordinated discovery and early bellwether trials. The latter is established to help gauge how juries may respond to certain, and similar, evidence and testimony throughout the litigation.
Master Long-Form Complaint
Plaintiffs submitted a Master Long-Form Complaint to the Court in May. The purpose of the complaint is to include all allegations raised in numerous lawsuits, which can then be used by individual plaintiffs in a Short-Form Complaint. The process is intended to streamline the filing of new claims, and facilitate pre-trial motions challenging the adequacy of the allegations and claims, reports About Lawsuits.
A few days later, defendants filed the motion to dismiss, stating that the Master Complaint fails to allege any facts to support Plaintiffs’ fraud-based claims; that “Plaintiffs have not identified the products they used, let alone the purportedly false statements made about any particular product, when the statements were made, who made them, and when or how Plaintiffs relied on them”, among other things. In other words, defendants argue that the plaintiffs fail to show what is defective about each of the hair relaxer products and fail to specifically identify which products caused the injury, and that they shouldn’t be “ forced to guess which products were used by Plaintiffs at any given time…plaintiffs should be required – as are all other products liability plaintiffs – to identify the specific product they used that allegedly caused their condition."
The defendants say the Master Complaint does not identify any study that confirms Plaintiffs’ causation theory, such as The Sister Study, published in October 2022 by the National Institute of Environmental Health (NIEHS, which is part of NIH), which found that women who regularly (at least every five to eight weeks) used hair relaxer products had a 156 percent increased risk of uterine cancer and 30 percent increased risk of breast cancer. The motion to dismiss argues that this study “consisted of sisters of women who had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer, who therefore may have a genetic predisposition. And neither the Chang Article published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute nor the White study establishes causation. Instead, defendants argue that the “authors of the Chang Article described their findings as “novel” and noted that brands or ingredients of hair products were not collected.” Authors of both articles concluded that “more research is needed to confirm” the results to “better understand” any relationship that exists.
Meanwhile, Judge Rowland said on July 6 that the parties should proceed with “traditional” fact discovery, and must meet and confer by July 18, to submit proposed discovery deadlines and when the Court should close fact discovery.
The case is In re: Hair Relaxer Marketing Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 1:23-cv-00818.
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“Ms. Reeves used Defendants’ Products by applying this to her scalp or by having a professional at a hair salon apply Defendants’ Products exactly as instructed by Defendants… Reeves would keep the Product on her hair for the time allotted in the instructions. There was never any indication, on the Products packaging or otherwise, that this normal use could and would cause her to develop uterine and/or endometrial cancer.”
Reeves joins hundreds more women who have filed, and are still filing, lawsuits against hair relaxer manufacturers.