Chemical hair relaxer (also known as hair straightener) is a product used by millions of African American women. New medical research now shows that chronic exposure to the chemicals in hair relaxer products disrupts the hormone system and leads to an increased risk of uterine cancer. Product liability lawsuits are now being brought against cosmetic companies by women who used hair relaxers for years and developed uterine cancer.
The product liability lawyers at Miller & Zois are now seeking cases from women not only in Maryland but nationwide who used chemical hair relaxers or hair straighteners on a regular basis for a minimum of 5 years and were subsequently diagnosed with uterine cancer. Contact us about a hair relaxer lawsuit today by calling 410-779-4600.
Where We Are Right Now in the Hair Relaxer Class Action Lawsuit
The hair relaxer class action lawsuit is now underway. U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has decided to consolidate all hair relaxer lawsuits into one case under U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland in the Northern District of Illinois.
What does this mean for victims? When you file a hair relaxer lawsuit in federal court, your case will be transferred Chicago. This court will then manage the pretrial proceedings for your case along with the other cases in the MDL, such as discovery and motion practice. The MDL court may also coordinate settlement negotiations or oversee bellwether trials, which are selected cases intended to test legal theories and provide guidance for the remaining cases in the MDL. Once pretrial proceedings are completed, individual cases may be remanded back to their original district courts for trial or further proceedings
This consolidation aims to streamline the litigation process by coordinating discovery, avoiding conflicting pretrial rulings, and serving the convenience of common witnesses and parties involved in the cases. This decision was made because the claims in each lawsuit share similar questions of fact or law.
The court issued order yesterday (March 10, 2023) summarizes the status of discussions between the parties as the litigation kicks off. This order is a lot of legal mumbo jumbo – how to file lawsuits, probate matters, general causation, coordination with state court proceedings, preservation order, ESI protocol, protective order, and leadership development committee. But what you need to get out of it is that this litigation is underway and moving forward to trials and hopefully settlement compensation for victims.
Chemical Hair Relaxers
Hair relaxer or hair straightener has been around since the early 1900s and is mostly used by women of African descent to force their hair to lay flat and make it more manageable. Hair relaxers achieve this result by using a strong mix of chemicals that break down the protein structure of the hair.
Hair relaxer contains chemicals known as phthalates. Phthalates are a family of chemicals that are used to add durability and other properties to certain types of pliable plastics. They are often called “plasticizers” and they are commonly found in various cosmetic products. Phthalates are known to be endocrine-disrupting chemicals (“EDCs”). EDCs are chemicals that significantly disrupt or impact the endocrine system, which is responsible for the production of hormones inside the body.
A phthalate chemical called Di-2- ethylhexylphthalate (“DEHP”) can be found in almost all hair relaxer products. DEHP is not a naturally occurring chemical. It is synthetically produced and biologically toxic. DEHP is considered a probable human carcinogen and chronic exposure to DEHP has been linked to other health conditions including reproductive dysfunction and developmental abnormalities.
Chemicals in Hair Relaxer Linked to Uterus Cancer
Groundbreaking new medical evidence has recently been released which shows that long term exposure to the chemicals in hair relaxer products can significantly increase the risk of uterine cancer.
Uterine cancer (cancer of the uterus) is one of the top 5 most common cancers among women. In the U.S., around 65,000 new cases of uterine cancer are diagnosed each year, which equates to 3.5% of all cancer cases. The incidence rate of uterine cancer among women of African descent is twice as high compared to white women in the U.S.
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute published the results of a groundbreaking new study in October 2022 on the association between hair relaxers and female reproductive cancers. The study examined the 10-year incidence rate of cancer among women who regularly used hair relaxers compared to women who never used hair relaxers.
The results of the study were compelling. The women who used hair relaxers were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer compared to those who did not use relaxers. More significantly, the highest incidence rate for uterine cancer was among those women who reported using hair relaxers the most frequently. This suggested a direct correlation between exposure to hair relaxers and uterine cancer. The study marked the first direct epidemiologic evidence of the causal link between hair relaxer use and uterine cancer.
The Science Behind Hair Relaxer Lawsuits
In the United States, there are estimated to be almost 66,000 new cases of uterine cancer in 2022, with over 90% of cases being of endometrial origin. Uterine cancer is commonly diagnosed in women in their 60s. However, Black women with uterine cancer have a poorer prognosis than white women. Death rates from uterine cancer have been increasing over the past two decades, while death rates from other cancers in women have been declining.
The Sister Study
Recent studies have shown that women who use chemical hair straighteners and relaxers have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer than those who do not use these products. The Sister Study, which is a large, diverse, ongoing prospective cohort study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), found that women who reported frequent use of hair straightening products were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than those who did not use the products.
The NIEHS study followed 33,947 US women aged 35-74 for almost 11 years. During follow-up, there were 378 cases of uterine cancer, and the researchers concluded that differences in the risk of uterine cancer among women who used hair straightening products were significant. Importantly, the researchers found no association between other hair products, such as hair dye, bleach, highlights, or perms, and uterine cancer risk.
The study found that an estimated 1.64% of women who never used chemical hair straighteners or relaxers would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70. However, for frequent users, that risk more than doubles, increasing to 4.05%. Approximately 60% of the women in the NIEHS study who used straighteners or relaxers identified as Black women. While the study did not show a difference in uterine cancer incidence based on race, the researchers stated that Black women may experience greater adverse health effects based on higher reported prevalence and frequency of use, younger age of initiating use, and harsher chemicals.
These recent findings are consistent with earlier studies showing an increase in hormone-related cancers in women who use hair straighteners, including breast and ovarian cancer. The NIH Sister Study researchers previously found that permanent hair dye and straighteners might increase breast and ovarian cancer risk.
Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuits
Publication of the new study linking chemical hair relaxer use to uterine cancer was soon followed by a product liability lawsuit (Mitchell v. L’Oreal, et al. – 1:22-cv-5815) against several cosmetic companies claiming that their hair relaxer caused uterine cancer. The hair relaxer lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago by Jenny Mitchell.
Mitchell is a resident of Missouri who used chemical hair relaxers her entire adult life. Mitchell first started using hair relaxer at age 10 and continued to use it (either at home or at a salon) every 2 months for the next 18 years. Mitchell was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2018. She was just 28 years old at the time of her diagnosis.
Mitchell’s lawsuit is the first of what could potentially be thousands of new hair relaxer cancer lawsuits that could be filed against cosmetic companies in the years to come. These product liability lawsuits will allege that the cosmetic manufacturers knew, or should have known, that the chemicals in their products were associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer.
Estimated Settlement Payout Value of Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuits
At this point, nobody can say for sure how much hair relaxer uterine cancer lawsuits could be worth in terms of a settlement. These lawsuits are just now getting filed and the scientific evidence on causation has yet to be tested in court.
If we assume that these cases will in fact hold up in court, however, we can make a preliminary estimate about the possible settlement value. Our lawyers believe that a solid hair relaxer uterine cancer case could have a potential settlement payout value of $400,000 to $1,750,000. Certain cases, particularly those involving plaintiffs who were very young at the time of their cancer diagnosis, could be worth much more.
Example Maryland Hair Relaxer Lawsuit
In Littles L’Oreal, and Edgewater, Maryland woman came into contact with EDCs and phthalate-based products in 1977, at the age of 21. She applied the defendants’ hair relaxers to her scalp herself and also had them applied by a professional hair salon. Ms. Littles continued to use the products until late 2019. She did what she was supposed to do. She followed the instructions on the packaging, keeping the product on her hair for the allotted time.
Like all of these victims, at no point was Ms. Littles informed, either on the packaging or otherwise, that the normal use of these products could cause her to develop uterine and/or endometrial cancer. However, Ms. Littles was diagnosed with uterine and/or endometrial cancer in March 2020 at the age of 64 while residing in Maryland. She underwent a full hysterectomy in April 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Her hysterectomy hair relaxer lawsuit filed on March 6, 2023 alleges that as a result of the Defendants’ acts and/or omissions, Ms. Littles experienced extreme pain and suffering, as well as extreme emotional distress. Her claim, filed in U.S. District Court for Maryland, will be transferred to the class action lawsuit in New York.
Contact Us About a Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuit
Our lawyers are currently seeking product liability cases alleging that chemicals in hair relaxer products caused uterine cancer in all 50 states. If you were diagnosed with uterine cancer after years of regularly using chemical hair relaxer, contact our office today for a free consultation at 410-779-4600. You can also get a free case evaluation online.