Dec 19, 2022

Consolidation of Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuits To Be Considered Next Month By U.S. JPML

Posted by : Irvin Jackson

The number of hair relaxer lawsuits has continued to grow as more women link their uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine fibroids to years of using chemical straighteners.

  • At least 100 hair relaxer cancer lawsuits have been filed throughout the federal court system, with thousands of additional claims expected
  • Each case raises similar allegations that chemical hair straighteners caused uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids or other injuries
  • A motion has been filed to establish a Hair Relaxer MDL in the federal court system
  • MDL would centralize all of the lawsuits before one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has scheduled oral arguments for January 26, 2023, to decide whether all hair relaxer lawsuits being filed throughout the federal court by women diagnosed with uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids, and other injuries should be consolidated before U.S. District Judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

Chemical straighteners like Dark & Lovely, Just for Me, Optimum, ORS Olive Oil, Motions, and other hair relaxers have been marketed for decades as safe, targeting Black women looking to remove the natural curls in their hair. However, recent studies have found that hair relaxers or at-home perms expose women to dangerous endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like phthalates, which increase the risk of cancer and other injuries.

Nearly a dozen lawsuits have been filed in various different U.S. District Courts, each raising similar allegations that the companies placed profits before the safety of consumers, by failing to disclose the potential cancer side effects of hair relaxers, and lawyers indicate that thousands of additional claims are likely to be filed in the coming months and years.

Regular exposure to chemicals in hair relaxers may cause uterine cancer, breast cancer, and other injuries. Women diagnosed with cancer may be eligible for settlement benefits.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the complaints spread throughout the federal court system, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion to establish a hair relaxer MDL (multidistrict litigation) earlier this month, which would transfer the claims to one U.S, District Judge to preside over coordinated discovery and a series of early bellwether trials.

In a notice of hearing session (PDF) issued on December 16, the U.S. JPML announced it will hear oral arguments over whether the hair relaxer chemical lawsuits should be consolidated on January 26, at the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami, Florida.

In complex product liability litigation, where large numbers of claims raise similar allegations against the manufacturers of similar products, it is common for the claims to be consolidated so that the parties reduce duplicative discovery that would otherwise be repeated throughout large numbers of claims, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of common parties and witnesses involved in the litigation.

Although many of the products have been used by women for decades and may have caused tens of thousands of cases of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, or uterine fibroids, the manufacturers argued earlier this month that the litigation does not justify formal centralization, indicating that each of the claims should continue on separate tracks in U.S. District Courts nationwide.

Hair Relaxer Cancer Risks

The litigation emerged after a number of studies published in recent years established a connection between the use of hair relaxers and uterine cancer, raising concerns about the widespread use of the products by Black and other minority women throughout the U.S.

In October, researchers published findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, which warned that ingredients used in the chemical hair relaxers may cause uterine cancer. Researchers found the rate of uterine cancer was nearly three times greater among women who frequently used hair relaxer chemicals, compared to women who never used the products.

A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Cancer (IJC) issued similar findings, indicating women who reported regularly using straighteners and permanent hair dyes were 9% more likely to develop breast cancer than non-users.

Over an eight-year period, researchers identified 2,794 cases of breast cancer after chemical hair straighteners use. The study revealed those who frequently used hair straightener products were at a significantly increased risk of breast cancer, finding women using hair straighteners at least every five to eight weeks, had a 30% increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Researchers warned that African American women who reported using permanent hair dyes regularly were associated with a 60% increase in breast cancer diagnosis, compared to an 8% increased risk for Caucasian women.

Uterine fibroids and endometriosis have been associated with phthalate metabolites used in hair relaxers.

As more women learn that their long-term use of hair relaxers may be the cause of uterine cancer, uterine fibroids, and other injuries linked to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the size and scope of the litigation is expected to increase dramatically.

Tags: Breast Cancer, Endocrine Disruptors, Endometriosis, Hair Relaxer, Hair Straighteners, L’Oreal, Phthalates, Uterine Cancer, Uterine Fibroids

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Irvin Jackson