News & Events
Sarah Pether, Associate in our Litigation and Dispute Resolution department has a broad range of expertise with experience including acting for claimants and defendants in respect of personal injury claims, general litigation such as neighbour disputes, and breach of contract claims and licensing. In her latest article, Sarah reflects on a recent case defending a hair salon owner against a claim made by a customer.
The firm was approached by a salon owner to defend a claim brought by a customer, who was alleging the negligent application of bleach causing blisters and breakage.
Large numbers of claims are brought against hairdressers and, due to the costs regime, it is often cheaper to settle these cases at an early stage, rather than fight them. This is due to the fact that a successful defendant does not recover their costs from the claimant unless they can prove dishonesty.
In this case, the customer had left the salon happy and did not complain until some time later. She then refused to return to the salon to let the owner examine her hair and asked for a refund of more than the cost of the treatment. She also stated that she would instruct a solicitor if this requested sum was not paid.
The owner was not prepared to pay such a sum when no evidence had been presented that she, nor her staff, had been negligent.
The claim was issued supported by a report from a trichologist. It was alleged that bleach was applied to the whole head of hair, for too long, leaving all of the customer’s hair in a poor state, with breakage in certain areas. The customer also alleged that she had developed blisters on her scalp, which had taken three weeks to heal. The owner’s case was that the bleach was only applied to the new 1cm of roots, was left on the hair for the correct period of time, and that there was no resulting damage to the scalp or hair in the salon.
The treatment provided by salons is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The service must be provided with care and skill.
The customer had to prove there had been a breach of the duty owed under the Act, that the breach was negligent, and that she had suffered damage as a consequence.
At trial, the customer changed her evidence under cross examination. She admitted that the bleach was applied carefully, just to her roots. For the first time, she claimed that (after this careful application) the bleach was then massaged, spreading it onto her previously bleached hair, causing the damage. She maintained her case that the bleach was left on for too long.
The judge weighed up the evidence from the customer, the salon staff and other customers present in the salon. He found that if the customer’s hair had been breaking off or her scalp had been sore and blistering, everyone would have remembered this, as it would have been unusual. He also found that the owner and her staff all knew the risk of leaving bleach on for too long, so would monitor the customer carefully.
The judge was also able to hear oral evidence from an expert for each party. The customer’s expert was not able to offer any explanation for the possible causes of damage, following the customer’s change of evidence about the bleach. The expert instructed on behalf of the salon owner answered questions under cross examination, and questions posed by the judge, explaining the effect of bleach on hair and other possible causes of hair damage.
The judge stated that customers are aware that bleach damages their hair as it strips the natural colour. This is a form of damage but is an accepted risk by the customer. Small areas of breakage are to be expected with bleached hair and are not enough to base a claim on, unless there is evidence of negligence.
The approach to such claims
If the insurer had simply settled this claim, it would have been settled on the incorrect factual basis of claim put forward by the customer. This means that the salon owner would have faced a fault claim on her record and increased premiums over a number of years, even though she had done nothing wrong.
Whilst there may be obvious hair damage claims, with hair falling out in clumps, or with scalp burns or chemical reactions to dyes, there are also cases where the breakage is minor and is to be expected, where there has been no actionable negligence.