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Monmouth County, NJ

This is a product liability/failure to warn case involving a then 38-year-old plaintiff. The plaintiff contended that as she was using a hair straightening gel manufactured by one of the defendants, and applying it with a metal comb manufactured by the co-defendant, after placing the comb on the burner on the stove as she had done many times in the past – her hair suddenly ignited, and that although she rushed to the sink to extinguish the flames, she had already suffered second and third degree burns to a relatively small portion of the head and neck. The gel label contained warnings against permitting one’s hair from coming in close contact with an open flame or other ignition source. The warnings that accompanied the comb did not address the issue.

The plaintiff related that she, and numerous other people she knew, regularly used a combination of the gel and comb to obtain a straightening of the hair that would be much more expensive in a hair salon. The plaintiff related that after applying the gel and heating the comb – she used it without incident. The plaintiff contended that when she heated the comb again and began using it, the accident occurred. Most likely, the scenario was that residue from the plaintiff’s hair became lodged in between two of the metal comb’s teeth, and that when the plaintiff placed the comb over the burner; it sparked this residue, which, in turn, ignited the plaintiff’s hair.

The plaintiff argued that in view of the evidence that a combination of the gel and metal comb were often used to achieve a home straightening, the warnings accompanying both products should have alerted consumers to the hazards. The plaintiff contended that the defendants denied that the labels were inadequate, or that such misuse of the product was foreseeable. The plaintiff’s proofs included the depositions of several employees of the gel manufacturer, in which the witnesses indicated that the home straightening procedure involved in the subject case had been frequently used in their homes, and that the practice had often been passed down by their mothers.

The plaintiff’s expert, whom the plaintiff would have qualified on both warnings and the issue of flammability – contended that the warnings on the gel manufacturer’s label to keep the substance and hair away from an open flame were inadequate. The plaintiff’s expert also contended that the comb manufacturer should have placed warnings on its label.

The plaintiff’s expert further conducted testing on the sample of human hair that was videoed. One of the samples had the gel on it, and the other did not. The plaintiff played the video, and opined that the jury could readily determine that while it was difficult to ignite the hair without the gel, the sample on which the gel was applied, burned easily. The plaintiff related that when her hair ignited, she rushed to the kitchen sink, but by the time she placed her head under the water, she had already suffered second and third degree burns in the head and neck. The plaintiff maintained that although the area of burns was relatively limited, the injuries were very painful, and that she spent some approximately eight weeks in a burn unit. The plaintiff supported that although significantly improved, the residual scarring is noticeable and permanent.

The plaintiff further contended that she suffered PTSD that will cause permanent symptoms.The case settled prior to trial for a total of $________, including $________ from the gel manufacturer, and $________ from the comb manufacturer.

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