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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Taxotere lawsuits, filed by women nationwide who have experienced continuing hair loss following use of the breast cancer drug, has directed the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) to file a Master Complaint by the end of next month, which will allow future plaintiffs to bring cases through a streamlined Short Form Complaint, which adopts certain allegations and claims as they related to each individual claim.
There are hundreds of 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 from Taxotere side effects, indicating that the drug is no more effective than other treatment alternatives for breast cancer, which have not been linked to the same problems.
Given the similar questions of fact and law raised in the complaints, the Taxotere cases are 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 a pretrial order (PDF) issued on February 10, Judge Engelhardt indicates that after a Master Complaint is filed by March 31, all future cases shall be brought through a Short Form Complaint, and all plaintiffs with a Taxotere lawsuit already pending in the MDL are being required to file an amended complaint using the short form by May 31, which will provide uniform allegations designed to assist the parties and court in any pretrial motions that may be filed.
Judge Engelhart previously approved the direct filing of Taxotere lawsuits in the Eastern District of Louisiana, to avoid the delays associated with transferring cases from U.S. District Courts nationwide. However, following coordinated discovery and any bellwether trials, if Taxotere settlements are not reached to resolve the litigation, each claim may ultimately be remanded back to the venue where it should have originally been filed for a separate trial date.
Taxotere Hair Loss Problems
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.
While hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy, it is usually temporary. According to allegations raised in Taxotere hair loss cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, Sanofi-Aventis provided false and misleading information for consumers and physicians in the United States, withholding reports of on-going hair problems experienced by users of the high-potency taxane.
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.
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 Taxotere warnings in several other countries included information about the permanent alopecia risk, that same information was not provided to American women or doctors.
According to allegations raised in the complaints, permanent Taxotere hair loss can have a substantial impact on a woman’s overall quality of life, and mental health.