A hair relaxer lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division on November 2 alleges that hair relaxer products gave a woman uterine cancer and endometriosis.
The complaint specifically alleges that “phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals” in the hair relaxer treatments caused her to develop uterine cancer and endometriosis.
The complaint alleges that the plaintiff was diagnosed with uterine cancer and endometriosis after using the following chemical hair relaxer products:
- Dark & Lovely
- Just for Me
- Cantu Shea Butter Relaxer
The lawsuit names the following defendants:
- L’Oréal USA, Inc.
- L’Oréal USA Products, Inc.
- Soft Sheen-Carson LLC
- Strength of Nature, LLC
- Godrej SON Holdings, Inc
- PDC Brands
- Parfums de Coeur, LTD
The complaint claims the woman started using hair relaxing products at age 10, and used them for 30 years, until 2017. The woman, according to the complaint, was diagnosed with endometriosis and uterine cancer in July 2017 at age 39, undergoing a full hysterectomy in September of 2017.
The woman, according to the complaint, lacks a family history of uterine cancer, or cancer in general.
Phthalates And Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Hair relaxer lawsuits claim that hair relaxing products contain phthalates as well as other endocrine disrupting chemicals, and that these chemicals have been linked with numerous health effects, including uterine cancer, breast cancer and endometriosis.
The hair relaxer cancer lawsuit claims that phthalates are used in products such as hair relaxer products for numerous reasons, including:
- They improve the retention and stability of fragrances
- They help products penetrate and stick to hair and skin
- They make colors last longer
- They increase the flexibility of hair
The complaint alleges that chronic phthalate exposure negatively impacts the endocrine system and the functioning of several organs.
The complaint claims that FDA regulations don’t require that specific ingredients in fragrances be listed on the packaging of cosmetic products, claiming that this allows phthalates to “evade listing” when combined with fragrances. The complaint alleges the plaintiff wasn’t able to determine if phthalates were in the hair relaxer products she used because of this.
The complaint specifically claims the products contained di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), a phthalate which is on California’s Proposition 65 list “because it can cause cancer”. The complaint describes DEHP as “highly toxic” and claims that it and its metabolites are known to cause cancers.
Which Chemicals Are In Hair Straighteners?
Chemical hair straighteners and chemical hair relaxer products can may contain potentially harmful chemicals, including:
- Phthalates: These chemicals, such as DEHP, improve fragrances’ retention and stability, and help products stick to hair. However, they have been linked with health problems such as uterine cancer.
- Bisphenol A (BPA): This industrial chemical is used in the manufacturing of polycarbonate plastic.
- Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde causes cancer, according to the state of California’s Proposition 65 list, and is used to produce numerous products, such as construction materials.
- Parabens: These chemicals are utilized as preservatives in pharmaceutical, food and cosmetic products.
About 65,000 women develop uterine cancer every year in the United States.
A recent study found that women who frequently use chemical hair relaxing or chemical hair straightening products are more than twice as likely to end up with uterine cancer than women who don’t use the products. The study found that 1.64 percent of women who never used the products developed uterine cancer by age 70, and that 4.05 percent of women who frequently used the products developed uterine cancer by the same age.
Endometriosis is a disease where cells similar to cells found in the endometrium, the tissue typically covering the inside of the uterus, grow outside of the uterus.
Multiple studies, according to the complaint, establish that endometriosis development can be caused by DEHP, which increases the migration, proliferation, activity and viability of endometrial stromal cells, “a required precondition” of the disease.
A 2003 study found that women with endometriosis have higher plasma DEHP concentrations than women who do not, and that 92.6 percent of women with endometriosis had detectable DEHP or a DEHP metabolite in their peritoneal fluid.
A 2013 study found that MEHP, a DEHP metabolite, was associated with a higher risk of endometriosis diagnosis.
Lawsuit Alleges The Following:
The lawsuit argues that the defendants should be found strictly liable for the plaintiff’s damages because they knew or should have known that their hair relaxer products could cause cancer but failed to warn about this risk on the packaging of the products.
Hammond v. N. Am. Asbestos Corp. found that companies who sell unreasonably dangerous products without providing warnings regarding the dangers linked to their use are strictly liable for damages caused by the products.
The complaint claims that the defendants knew or should have known their products could cause uterine cancer due to “scientific knowledge dating back for decades.”
The complaint alleges that the plaintiff would not have used the hair relaxer products had their labeling warned her that the products would significantly increase the risk that she would develop endometriosis and uterine cancer.
The complaint claims that this failure to warn caused the plaintiff to suffer from:
- Severe pain
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of care
- Loss of comfort
- Economic damages
The complaint notes that the defendants continue to advertise, market and represent to the public that their products are safe for women to use.
The complaint argues the defendants should be strictly liable for the plaintiff’s damages because their hair relaxer products were defective by design since they could cause cancer and endometriosis even when manufactured correctly and used as marketed, promoted, recommended and intended by the defendants.
The complaint argues that the defendants’ hair relaxer products are unreasonably dangerous “to an extent beyond that would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer,” an argument which may also been seen in a chemical hair straightener lawsuit.
The concept that companies are strictly liable for damages caused by their products which are unreasonably dangerous beyond that which ordinary consumers would expect goes back to Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 402A and Riordan v. International Armament Corp.
The complaint notes that the products are “inessential” cosmetic products which don’t cure or treat a serious disease, and that safer alternatives, such as products without fragrances, have been available for decades.
The lawsuit argues that the defendants’ failure to warn about the increased risk of developing cancer associated with their hair relaxer products was negligent.
735 ILCS 5/2-1116 holds entities liable for injuries caused by negligence. Negligence is the failure to behave with reasonable care in order to prevent harm.
The complaint argues that the defendants knew or should have known their products could cause cancer, and that since reasonably careful companies would warn about such a risk, the defendants were negligent by failing to warn about this risk.
The complaint also accuses the defendants of negligent, misleading advertising.
The complaint argues that the defendants negligently failed to use reasonable care when designing their products and they failed to use safer designs for their product which were both cost-effective and reasonably feasible.
The lawsuit argues that the defendants were grossly negligent by displaying a complete lack of care, as well as an extreme departure from the actions that reasonably careful companies would take in the same situations.
Resolution Trust Corp. v Franz stated that “recklessness is equivalent to gross negligence” in Illinois. The complaint argues that the defendants, by selling products they knew or should have known could cause cancer without warning about this risk, acted “with conscious and reckless disregard for the rights and interests” of the plaintiff.
The complaint argues that the defendants were negligent when they represented to the public that their hair relaxer products were tested, safe and effective when they were actually unsafe.
The complaint claims that the defendants’ hair relaxer products were either insufficiently tested or not tested at all.
The lawsuit argues that the defendants should have recalled their hair relaxer products because they knew or should have known the products could cause cancer, and that their failure to recall their products constituted negligence.
According to the complaint, the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Trade Practices Act states that “[u]nfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices... are hereby declared unlawful whether any person has in fact been misled, deceived or damaged thereby.”
The complaint argues that the defendants violated this act by:
- Representing that their products had characteristics they didn’t have
- Advertising products with the intent to not sell them as they were advertised
- Engaging in deceptive or fraudulent conduct which created a likelihood of misunderstanding or confusion
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of fraudulently making material misrepresentations of the use of their products as safe and effective.
The complaint implies that the defendants fraudulently engaged in marketing that gave the impression their products were made from “natural” ingredients instead of “harmful chemicals.”
The complaint also alleges that many women on boxes of hair relaxers and in hair relaxer ads actually used hair straightening tools instead of chemical hair relaxers to achieve the look displayed on the boxes or in the ads.
The lawsuit argues that the defendants intentionally and actively suppressed and/or concealed material facts to induce the public to purchase and use their hair relaxer products. The complaint specifically accuses the defendants of intentionally and actively suppressing and/or concealing that they were aware that their products have been linked with cancer.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants expressly and impliedly warranted that their products were safe for use when they were actually not because they could cause cancer.
810 ILCS 5/2-313 states that sellers create express warranties when they make a promise or affirmation of fact, relating to their products, to buyers.
810 ILCS 5/2-314 states that sellers create implied warranties that their products are merchantable when they sell products. Products must be fit for the ordinary purposes they are used for in order to be merchantable.
Complaint Seeks To Recover Medical Monitoring Costs From Defendants
The complaint, like other chemical hair straightener lawsuits, claims that the plaintiff, after developing uterine cancer, will require periodic diagnostic testing and/or screening beyond which is normally recommended to people.
The complaint argues that the defendants should have to pay for this medical monitoring because they knew or should have known their products could cause cancer yet sold the products without warning people about the cancer risk.
Lawsuit Seeks To Recover Damages
The complaint seeks to recover damages from the defendants, including:
- Compensatory damages for pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, and additional non-economic damages
- Economic damages such as medical expenses, lost earnings, out of pocket expenses and additional economic damages
- Exemplary and/or punitive damages for the alleged willful, wanton, reckless, fraudulent acts of the defendants, who allegedly showed a reckless indifference and complete disregard for the safety of the plaintiff and the general public
- Predjudgment and postjudgment interest
- Attorneys’ fees
- The cost of court proceedings
- Any other relief deemed proper and just by the court