Bad hair lawsuit leads to $6,000 jury verdict

Friday, April 11, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- A woman who said a bad hair treatment left her depressed and led her to seek early retirement was awarded $6,000 by a jury Wednesday.

Geremie Hoff, 56, of suburban Creve Coeur, sued Elizabeth Arden's Salon at Saks Fifth Avenue in Plaza Frontenac for emotional distress, depression, counseling and lost income.

According to testimony, Hoff went to the salon Aug. 9, 2001, seeking to have her curly hair straightened. She was going on a float and camping trip and wanted a style that would be easy to maintain.

Stylist Reye Hudson, who is still with the salon but was not named a defendant in the suit, applied a hair relaxer, then washed Hoff's hair several times and put her under a dryer.

The stylist said Hoff seemed surprised but not displeased by the straightness of her hair and the new cut.

Hoff testified that clumps of hair came loose that night, and her resulting bald spots and brittle hair made her depressed and reclusive.

Her daughter testified about Hoff's emotions, as did a psychiatrist and counselor.

Hoff's attorney, Paul Devine, said she was so distressed she retired early from teaching at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, He said she also stopped guiding tours to Italy.

Defense attorney Lawrence Hartstein said Hudson skipped the strand test, to see how Hoff's hair would react to the product, but that the stylist could judge who needed one based on her 30 years of experience.

He noted that Hoff didn't retire until nearly a year later, after her hair returned. He said her tour business would have suffered anyway, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. And he discounted the counselor and the psychiatrist as only repeating what Hoff told them.

The St. Louis County jurors said after the verdict that the case was unusual, but they felt they adhered to the law by finding the stylist negligent for failing to test a strand of Hoff's hair before applying the product. They did not describe how they arrived at the $6,000 figure.

Hoff sought compensation of at least $25,000 but never specified an exact amount. Her lawyer said her damages included nearly $45,000 in lost income alone.

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