June 13, 2017, PLLR E-Newsletter

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Hair product manufacturer settles class action alleging hair loss

photo of a woman's hairline

The plaintiffs contended that defects in the hair conditioner caused significant hair loss and that the defendants had been aware of the danger since around the time the product was released in 2007. Claims included breach of warranty, breach of contract, and violation of the state unfair trade practices act and false advertising act, among others. The parties settled for approximately $26.3 million. Friedman v. Guthy-Renker LLC.
 

Judi Miller ordered WEN Cleansing Conditioner by phone in June 2011, after seeing advertisements stating that the product was “a revolutionary way to cleanse and hydrate the hair.” The cleansing conditioner was marketed as organic, safe, innovative, and gentle. Miller began receiving shipments of the conditioner from Guthy-Renker LLC, which manufactured and marketed the product, every few months. She used it as instructed, sometimes leaving it on for extended periods as a “spa treatment.”

In January 2013, Miller began noticing some abnormal hair loss, but she did not connect it to her use of the conditioner. The following year, she realized that she was losing substantial amounts of hair only in the areas where she was using the product. By the time she stopped using the conditioner in June 2014, she had lost substantial amounts of hair from the crown of her head and other areas where she had applied the product. She spent money on doctors’ visits, supplements, and vitamins in an attempt to regrow her hair.

Amy Friedman had a similar experience after purchasing the product in January 2014. She began using the conditioner as directed and lost substantial amounts of hair within two weeks. She stopped using the product, but her hair loss continued for about another three weeks. Ultimately, Friedman lost about one-third of her hair. A nurse practitioner, she had to use cosmetic solutions such as hair extensions to cover up the hair loss. Like Miller, she also spent money on supplements and vitamins in an attempt to regrow her hair.

Friedman and Miller, individually and on behalf of other consumers who suffered hair loss after using WEN Cleansing Conditioner, brought a class action lawsuit against Guthy-Renker and a related company, WEN by Chaz Dean Inc. The plaintiffs alleged breach of warranty, breach of contract, violation of the state unfair trade practices act and the false advertising act, strict products liability, and negligent failure to warn consumers and test the product. The plaintiffs contended that defects in the conditioner caused significant hair loss and that the defendants were aware of the danger from approximately the time the product was released in late 2007 but failed to warn consumers, instead touting the product as “gentle enough to use every day” and promising “the more you use, the better the results.”

The plaintiffs were prepared to show that Guthy-Renker had received more than 17,000 complaints of hair loss caused by WEN Cleansing Conditioner dating back to 2007. The plaintiffs were also prepared to show that after Friedman complained to the FDA, she received electronic communications from the company’s consumer affairs department, including a questionnaire with detailed questions about her use of the product. The plaintiffs contended that Guthy-Renker had developed the questionnaire and used it repeatedly as part of a strategy to cover up the problem by paying off complaining consumers.

The parties settled for approximately $26.3 million.

Citation: Friedman v. Guthy-Renker LLC, No. 2:15-cv-06009 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 5, 2017).

Plaintiff counsel: William H. Anderson and AAJ member Charles J. LaDuca, both of Washington, D.C.; Michael Flannery, St. Louis; Brian W. Warwick and Janet R. Varnell, both of Lady Lake, Fla.; and Douglas L. Johnson, Neville L. Johnson, and Jordanna G. Thigpen, all of Beverly Hills, Calif.