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Following the recent consolidation of all federal Taxotere hair loss lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, a number of plaintiffs’ lawyers have applied to serve in various leadership roles in the multidistrict litigation (MDL).
Earlier this month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established coordinated pretrial proceedings for all federal cases against Sanofi-Aventis over failure to warn about the potential side effects of Taxotere, a breast cancer drug that has been linked to reports of permanent alopecia or hair loss.
There are currently about 100 complaints pending nationwide, each raising similar allegations that the drug maker withheld information about the risk of hair problems, which are not associated with other breast cancer treatments that are equally as effective. However, as Taxotere injury lawyers continue to review and file claims for women throughout the U.S. in the coming months and years, it is likely that thousands of additional cases will be added to the federal MDL.
Given the similar questions of fact and law, cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide have been centralized before U.S. District Judge Lance Africk in the Eastern District of Louisiana, which is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the litigation, avoid conflicting rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
In a pretrial order (PDF) issued October 13, Judge Africk outlined various practices and procedures for the litigation. In addition, the judge called for applications to be filed by any attorneys seeking to serve in various leadership roles, which will take certain actions during the coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings that benefit all plaintiffs who have filed a complaint.
Judge Africk set a deadline of October 24 for lawyers seeking to serve on the Plaintiffs Steering Committee, and a deadline of October 27 for the position of liaison counsel. An initial conference will be held on Thursday, November 10, at which time the leadership structure may be established.
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.
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.
As part of the coordinated MDL proceedings, it is expected that Judge Africk will establish 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.