Reid v. Unilever United States, Inc. – Beauty Product Liability

There are millions of personal care and beauty products on the market – everything from shampoos to soaps to creams to lotion to makeup to deodorant and toothpaste. Most of these promise to make you clean, smell fresher, have fuller hair or look younger. Unfortunately, not only do many of these products fail on these promises, some are not safe for public use.hair1

Some potential effects caused by dangerous beauty products include:

  • Infections
  • Allergic Reactions
  • Burns
  • Irreversible Skin Damage
  • Vision loss

If you have been injured by a dangerous or defective beauty product, you may have grounds for a personal injury claim. More specifically, your claim would be for product liability. Manufacturers and distributors of products owe a duty to make sure the product is reasonably safe when used as directed. That includes not just the manufacturer, but the retail store or website that sold the product or the beauty salon that applied it. 

In the recent case of Reid v. Unilever United States, Inc., a class action had been filed against the maker of a hair product that promised to smooth hair and coat it with Keratin – a product found naturally in hair. Instead, the active ingredient was a chemical called thioglycolic acid, which is extremely corrosive. The results were disastrous. Although product instructions indicated consumers should use the product for 30 days, it reportedly dissolved hair and burned scalps.

In 2014, after hundreds of lawsuits were consolidated into a class action, the court approved a $10.25 million settlement. However, the resulting settlement involved just a one-time, $10 per-person payment through a $250,000 reimbursement fund. There was also a $10 million injury fund, from which those who suffered personal injury could be compensated.

A class objector – a member of the class who objected to the settlement – argued this was far too low.

Consumers asserted claims for:

  • Breach of warranty
  • Violations of state consumer fraud and deceptive practices laws
  • Unjust enrichment

Class action lawsuits were filed in several states against defendant companies. The cases were then consolidated into a single class action before the Northern District of Illinois, where they were mediated for about 18 months with the help of a retired judge before reaching a settlement agreement.

With regard to the injury fund, claimants had three options:

  • A – Capped at $40 per claimants who incurred expenses for hair treatment, but no longer have the receipts to support that claim;
  • B – For claimants who required hair treatments and who do have receipts (hairdresser or medical bills), up to $800;
  • C – For those who suffered significant bodily injury, up to $25,000 in damages.

The two named plaintiffs in the case received incentive awards of $10,000 and $7,500, respectively.

One woman objected to the settlement, arguing, among other things, that:

  • It lacks reasonably accurate quantitative analysis of benefits;
  • Court had conflicting data about the number of kits sold and the value of those kits;
  • Settling parties provided no evidence of defendants liquidity, net worth or ability to pay a larger judgment;
  • Settlement lumps together serious personal injury claims with economic claims in a way that is unfair;
  • Settlement is flawed because it doesn’t forbid defendant from reintroducing the same or similar products in the future.

The court noted first that plaintiff’s argument addressed the court’s failure to make an informed decision by not having enough data about the number of those who suffered serious injuries and the value of those injuries. However, upon review by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Seventh Circuit, justices found the court had considered this (although more information might have been helpful) and determined about 30 percent of the personal injury settlement fund likely would not be used.

She had also suggested sub-classes would have been more advantageous to those involved, but failed to outline how she specifically may have benefited from this.

As far as the lack of an injunctive agreement, the district court considered and rejected that option, which was within their discretion to do.

This case shows some of the trouble with class action litigation, which is that while a win is often more likely, the compensation is often paltry or minimal. Whether that is applicable or advantageous to your beauty product injury case will depend.

Typically for those who have suffered serious personal injury, it’s advantageous to pursue the case one-on-one.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Reid v. Unilever United States, Inc., March 25, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Chair Recalls Issued After Numerous Injuries Reported, March 4, 2016, Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyer

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