The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) recently consolidated chemical hair relaxer lawsuits into multidistrict litigation (MDL). Federal cases that allege chemical hair straighteners cause uterine cancer, uterine fibroids, and other injuries are now centralized under MDL-3060. The panel recognized that this litigation has increased substantially since the request for centralization and continues to add new claims from various districts.
Plaintiffs Claim Hair Relaxers Cause Cancer and Other Illnesses
In October 2022, a woman named Jennifer Mitchell filed one of the first hair relaxer lawsuits following the release of a groundbreaking study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Mitchell claimed prolonged exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemicals in hair relaxers caused her to develop uterine cancer. As a result of her uterine cancer, Mitchell required a hysterectomy and filed a lawsuit against prominent hair care companies such as L’Oréal and Strength of Nature.
The NIH study, which concluded that women who regularly use hair relaxers may be more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer, has opened the floodgates for hair relaxer lawsuits. In addition to uterine cancer, chemical hair relaxer lawsuits cite ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and uterine fibroids as injuries allegedly linked to chemical hair relaxers. In the months since Mitchell’s original lawsuit, dozens of women have filed chemical hair relaxer cancer claims nationwide.
JPML Forms MDL for Chemical Hair Relaxer Claims
In November 2022, hair relaxer plaintiffs filed a motion with the JPML to centralize federal hair relaxer claims. The motion argued that these claims shared common issues of fact and similar allegations concerning the dangers of chemical hair relaxers. At the time of this motion, there were nine cases filed on behalf of thirteen plaintiffs in four different districts.
The JPML heard arguments to consolidate claims on January 26, and on February 6, 2023, the panel agreed to centralize hair relaxer claims. In the transfer order, the JPML noted that all actions concern whether:
- Exposure to phthalates or other EDCs harms the reproductive system
- Defendants knew or should have known about the dangers of hair relaxers
- Defendants conducted adequate testing or post-market surveillance to monitor the safety of their products
Defendants argued that centralization is inefficient and that claims involve several disparate questions of fact. Since claims are filed against numerous companies with various product lines, and plaintiffs allege multiple different injuries, the defendants believe an MDL is not ideal.
The JPML disagreed with the defendants’ arguments, noting that centralization will best serve all parties. Most actions name multiple sets of defendants and allege exposure to several product lines. Plaintiffs said this is because women who use hair relaxers tend to shift to different product lines throughout their lives. Therefore, the JPML determined that refusing to centralize claims would do nothing to resolve the complexities of these cases. Declining centralization would only spread these claims across different judges and districts.
Federal hair relaxer claims will be sent to the Northern District of Illinois with the Honorable Mary M. Rowland as the presiding judge.