Guenard & Bozarth LLP recently settled a case for $300,000 involving a hair weave that went terribly wrong. Our client was a young lady, and aspiring model, who experienced pressure necrosis from a tight weave and it changed her life. She was left with a permanent bald spot the size of a playing card on the top of her head.
Hair weaves and exotic hair braiding have become more popular in recent years and shops are opening up to meet the demand. Few know this is a completely unregulated industry. The California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology does not test or regulate braiding and weaving. No license is required to perform these services and the technique is not taught in cosmetology school. The trade is learned from friends, family and on the job—from others who learned it from their friends, family or on the job. What this creates is an inconsistent and blurry standard of care because the methods vary from region to region and household to household. These conflicting methodologies are then put to practice in neighborhood salons.
One major issue we had to overcome in the case, which is always present in purported independent contractor versus employee disputes, was course and scope of the individual stylist. The stylist had signed a “Hair Salon Booth Rental Agreement” that illuminated her understanding that she would operate as an independent contractor. Nonetheless, we were able to use the facts and the agreement language to overcome the independent contractor presumption and have the salon owner’s insurance pick-up the claim.
When done correctly, these hairstyles cause no damage to the hair or scalp. When done incorrectly, permanent hair loss and scaring can occur. There is a misconception in the industry that, to be done correctly, the braiding and weaving need to be extremely tight. Sayings such as, “the tighter the braid the better the weave,” or “if it ain’t tight it ain’t right,” are often the colloquial expressions amongst stylists installing the weaves. When faced with these industry philosophies, we knew that we were likely dealing with a case of first impression.
Based on the opinions from our client’s medical providers and our experts, when braids are done excessively tight, the gradual tension on the hair follicle causes pain and can stress the follicle beyond its biological tolerance—causing it to die. The result is permanent baldness. It is common to see women with what appears to be a receding hair line or thinning hair around the edges. This is called “traction alopecia” where “traction” is the tension caused by the braid and “alopecia” is the medical term for hair loss.
More serious injuries can also occur, but are less common. One example is pressure necrosis of the scalp. To install a weave, the stylists often use a braiding pattern called a beehive or spiral braid, that starts at the edge of the hair by the ear and continues in a spiral pattern ending at the crown of the head. If done too tightly, the braids act like a series of tourniquets on the scalp—which decrease the blood-flow. As the braids get closer to the crown of the head, the blood-flow can be reduced to the point where tissue begins to deteriorate. When this happens, the scalp starts to rot and the hair follicles die. What is left is a large open wound beneath the weave—often as big as eight to ten centimeters in diameter. This is similar to a bed sore and is often not painful at all. After the wound heals and scars, the unfortunate result is a large circle of permanent baldness—akin to modern day scalping.
Most people who install weaves or do braiding are completely unaware that this can occur. This ethos is bred from inconsistency in the industry and lack of licensing and regulations. The lack of regulation is surprising given the fact that conservative estimates value the African-American hair industry as a multi-billion dollar a year enterprise. Due to the embarrassing nature of this injury, it often goes unreported. Further, in recent years there have been some case studies in medical journals addressing this problem. As a result, it will not be surprising if we see more of these types of cases in the future.
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Guenard & Bozarth LLP recently settled a case for $300,000 involving a hair weave that went terribly wrong. Our client was a young lady, and aspiring model, who experienced pressure necrosis from a tight weave and it changed her life.
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