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Hair Relaxer Makers Splitting Hairs in Georgia Court

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The Georgia Court of Appeals and hair relaxer manufacturers split hairs over Georgia's 10-year repose statute.

Atlanta, GA Hair relaxer manufacturers have successfully argued with the Georgia Court of Appeals to take into consideration the state’s 10-year repose statute regarding a hair relaxer lawsuit filed by a Georgia woman last October. But plaintiff Kiara Burrough's attorney point out that the statute doesn’t apply to claims for negligence and failure-to-warn.

Burrough’s attorney told Law360 that the companies were wrong if they believed that a ruling in their favor on the repose statute issue would be dispositive of the entire case. "Their position, if it comes across as though the plaintiff will get kicked out of court and be unable to bring these claims if they win on statute of repose, is incorrect, a false statement of the law and a false reading of the law," she said. L'Oreal, Strength of Nature, Namaste and Soft Sheen and other companies filed three motions to dismiss earlier this year. The trial court, the State Court of Chatham County, denied the motions in June.

The appellate court agreed on July 30 to hear appeals filed by the hair straightener manufacturers, all of which argue that a trial court wrongly applied Georgia's repose statute when it decided not to free them from Kiara Burrough's lawsuit, accusing the cosmetic companies of causing her to develop uterine fibroids. She said her uterine fibroids were caused by regular and prolonged exposure to chemicals found in the companies' hair relaxer products.

Statute of Repose

The Statute of Repose is similar to the Statute of Limitations, as it cuts off certain legal rights if they are not acted on by a specified deadline. The former, however, is more favorable to defendents as the time period begins to run from the date of the defendant's action even if the injury is yet to occur. Most state-imposed statutes of limitations generally range from one to six years (Georgia SOL is two years). According to Georgia Court Reporting, Georgia’s statute of repose extinguishes a potential plaintiff's right to assert a product liability claim after 10 years have passed since the product was first sold for use or consumption. This means that no individual injured due to a defective product will be able to successfully file a lawsuit against a company or manufacturer if the lawsuit is filed more than 10 years after the first time the product was sold. The statute of repose was established so that potential defendants will not be subject to liability for long periods of time, but it can seem harsh to injured parties due to the wrongdoing of other individuals, companies, or hair straightener manufacturers. 

For instance, if a woman in Georgia is diagnosed with uterine cancer, claims her injury is caused by hair relaxer and tries to file a lawsuit within two years from the date the injury occurs, but she started using the product 11 years prior, the statute of repose would prevent her from filing the lawsuit. (This statute, however, does not apply to all product liability claims.)

Burrough’s attorney told Law360 that Georgia’s repose statute wasn’t created to include products like hair straighteners. However, she said it is useful dealing with car owners who don’t properly maintain their vehicles, for example, from suing a car manufacturer for an alleged defect they believe is causing them car trouble more than 10 years after the car was first sold. But hair relaxers, she noted, are one-and-done products that don't stay in the possession of buyers for any longer than it takes to use them.

The cases are Strength of Nature Global LLC v. Kiara Burroughs, case number A23i0264, and L'Oreal USA Inc. et al. v. Kiara Burroughs, case number A23i0259, both in the Georgia Court of Appeals.

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