March 28, 2023

Removing dry shampoo could lead to class action lawsuits, lawyers say

After Unilever recalled more than 1.5 million dry shampoo products over the discovery of a cancer-causing chemical, lawyers say customers are likely to take legal action, especially as case reports of the product mount.

In October, Health Canada recalled 1,574,426 dry shampoo products by popular drugstore brands including Dove, Bed Head TIGI and Tresemmé after the chemical benzene was detected. Unilever said that while it does not use benzene in its products, it urged caution.

This liquid chemical in gasoline is carcinogenic and exposure to large amounts can lead to cancers such as leukemia or other life-threatening blood disorders. As of Wednesday, Health Canada has already reported more than 100 inquiries, incidents and injuries. Most of the cases and injuries have been related to irritation and allergic reactions after using affected dry shampoo products.

“This could definitely lead to a class action lawsuit,” BC-based class action lawyer David Klein told on Wednesday.

Klein says that if a class action were to arise, there are two specific groups of people who could bring a claim if they can prove that the manufacturer knew or should have known about the contamination.

“The first, of course, is the people who have suffered any kind of injury as a result of the benzene, and the second is those (related to) over a million products purchased that now have no value and need to be thrown away,” he said.

Peter Murray, an Ontario-based personal injury lawyer, told in a phone interview Wednesday that class action lawsuits can only work if all plaintiffs can show they experienced the same problem, which can be difficult to prove to the first group because the injuries can vary from person to person.

In this case, Murray says, Unilever could face a “mass tort” where multiple individual claims are made about the same product, but with similar rather than identical problems. Even so, a class-action lawsuit could easily be filed against another group who had to spend money on a now-useless product and who may feel anxious about using products from a brand they had previously trusted, Murray says.

In Unilever’s recall, customers were told to stop using the products immediately and dispose of them, and a refund or refund was also offered to customers. The effectiveness of the assistance given to clients is likely to determine the number of legal actions against them, says Murray.

“It’s only when there’s a disconnect between what’s right and the profit motivation of some manufacturers that you really get into a class action or the need for a class action,” he said.

Murray advises all Canadians who purchased the product or experienced damage to keep all evidence if they are considering legal action. Evidence such as store receipts, photographs of physical injuries or a medical certificate are crucial in building a case.

“It would be good to find out if you have a particular allergy or high sensitivity to benzene exposure, because some people are more sensitive and ‘thin-skinned,’ as we call it, than others,” he said.

While companies may in good faith issue refunds or compensation to individuals who have not been significantly affected, Murray says those who may wish to file a claim should read the full details of the claim and consider seeking legal advice first.

“If you’re talking about returning the bottle, that’s one thing, and it’s probably irrelevant, but if it’s a significant skin lesion or something, you might want to consider getting more information and educating yourself before you sign on the dotted line,” he said.

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