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As a growing number of women nationwide continue to file Taxotere lawsuits, alleging that they have been left with permanent and disfiguring hair loss from the controversial breast cancer drug, the U.S. District judge presiding over the litigation has appointed a small group of attorneys to serve in various leadership roles during the coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
There are currently about 260 product liability lawsuits pending in the federal court system against Sanofi-Aventis, each involving similar claims that the drug maker failed to warn women and the medical community about the risk of permanent hair loss with Taxotere, which is not associated with other breast cancer treatments that are equally as effective.
Given the similar questions of fact and law raised in the complaints, the Taxotere litigation is centralized before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt in the Eastern District of Louisiana as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
In an order (PDF) issued an December 28, Judge Engelhardt appointed four attorneys to serve on a Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee, which will coordinate and manage discovery, and take actions during the MDL proceedings that benefit all plaintiffs. Two additional attorneys were appointed to serve as Co-Liaison Counsel, who will also serve as “ex-officio” members of the Plaintiffs Executive Committee.
In a separate pretrial order (PDF) issued the same day, Judge Kinkeade appointed one of the liaison counsel to specifically promote greater coordination between Taxotere lawsuits pending in the state and federal court systems.
Taxotere Hair Loss Risks
Taxotere (docetaxel) is a high potency taxane-based cancer drug, which was introduced by Sanofi-Aventis in 1996 as a superior alternative to existing low-potency taxanes, such as Taxol. However, lawsuits allege that the drug is actually no more effective at treating breast cancer, yet carries a risk of permanent hair loss, or alopecia, which has not been associated with low-potency taxanes.
Plaintiffs maintain that Sanofi-Aventis knew or should have known about the link between Taxotere and hair loss problems that continue for years following treatment, yet placed their desire for profits before consumer safety by providing false and misleading information to consumers, and failed to disclose reports of on-going hair problems experienced by users of the high-potency taxane.
As early as 2005, studies have found that women face a substantial risk of permanent hair loss with Taxotere, including findings that indicate one out of every 10 patients treated with Taxotere suffered hair loss that lasted up to 10 years and five months following chemotherapy, and in some cases longer.
While warnings in several other countries included information about the permanent Taxotere alopecia risk, that same information was not provided to American women or doctors.
As Taxotere attorneys continue to review and file additional cases in the coming weeks and months, it is expected that over 1,000 cases will ultimately be included in the MDL. Part of the coordinated proceedings will likely include a “bellwether” process, where a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
If Taxotere settlements cannot be reached following the MDL proceedings, the product liability claims would be remanded to the district courts where they were originally filed for individual trials.