$2.3 Coppertone Mislabeling Suit Settled

Earlier this month a settlement was reached in the class action suit against the makers of Coppertone® sunscreen. The suit alleged that certain Coppertone spray sunscreen products were mislabeled and misrepresented because the company knew or should have known that the products contained benzene (a known cancer-causing agent) but did not disclose the fact.

Coppertone denies all claims and allegations made in the suit and any wrongdoing whatsoever and maintains that their products are safe for use. Neither side “make any admissions regarding the merits of the allegations, claims, or defenses in the case.” Coppertone says they are settling the case “to avoid the expense, incovenience, risk, and disruption of the litigation.”

The final approval hearing will be held on January 5th at which time the court will determine whether the proposed settlement is fair and should be approved, if the attorney’s fees should be granted, and whether a payment should be made to the class representative should be paid.

The Backstory

In May, 2021, Valisure, an independent laboratory, tested several brands and batches of sunscreen and found benezene in some of them. As a result the FDA updated thieir information on benzene contamination and issued recalls on Coppertone, Neutrogena and Aveno, and Banana Boat spray sunscreens.

Kaboom! Class action lawsuits. The Coppertone suit ($2.3 million) just settled and the Neutrogena and Aveeno lawsuit ($1.75 million) was settled in June 2022. The lawsuit against Banana Boat was filed in August 2021, but has not settled yet.

A Repeating Pattern

In March 2021, Valisure, tested hand sanitizers for benzene and found it present in 17% of the 260 unique batches across 168 brands of hand sanitizers that were tested. They filed a citizens petition with the FDA asking the FDA to issue recall alerts on the contaminated batches and to institute or update appropriate industry guidances. The FDA did take action as a result, issuing recalls and an alert for drug manufacturers. The lawyers also took action, with multiple class action suits.

In May 2021, Valisure found benzene in several brands of antiperspirant sprays. The FDA issued warning letters and then recall notices for certain aerosol antipersirant spray products from Suave (Unliver), Old Spice and Secret (Proctor and Gamble), and Sure and Brut (HRB Brands). Proctor and Gamble also issued a voluntary recall on some aerosol dry shampoo and conditioner sprays which were found to contain benzene. Right on the heels of the recalls, there were class action suits filed.

This is a repeating pattern in which law firms jump on the class-action bandwagon as soon as there is a WHIFF of something potentially (even if minimally) harmful. And then the companies settle because fighting the lawsuit would cost much, much more than just paying a couple of million dollars.

Who wins? Supposedly the consumers, who are now “protected.” But only a small percentage of the products actually contained benzene, so the increase in product safety and resultant consumer protection is fairly minimal. In addition, most consumers will, of course, get very small payouts, if any. Meantime, the companies have spent millions in legal fees and settlement costs which will no doubt be partially recouped with price increases paid by consumers.

In actual fact, it’s more likely that the ambulance recall chasing class-action attorneys are the only ones who will will actually benefit.

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