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Class Action for Taxotere Hair Loss Problems Denied Certification

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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Taxotere lawsuits, which involve claims that the breast cancer chemotherapy drug may result in permanent hair loss, has denied certification for a class action filed on behalf of women from Louisiana, meaning each plaintiff must pursue their case individually as part of the mass-tort. 

A group of three women sought to establish a class action for Taxotere hair loss problems experienced by breast cancer survivors from Louisiana, raising claims under the states’s Product Liability Act.

The class action complaint was filed in April, raising allegations similar to those currently being pursued in more than 1,250 individual lawsuits being pursued by women who claim the drug makers failed to adequately warn about the permanent hair loss side effects of Taxotere, since other equally effective treatments for breast cancer do not cause the same problems.

In an order (PDF) issued on July 17, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt denied class action certification, indicating that it does not meet the necessary requirements, since there are a number of individualized issues and elements in the claims.

Judge Engelhardt indicated in his ruling that it was unclear in some cases whether Taxotere or a generic equivalent were used, what combination of drugs were administered during the various chemotherapy treatments, and what dosages of Taxotere were used. He also pointed out that the claims involved in the class action had different injuries and sought different damages. Therefore, the plaintiffs’ claims do not lend itself to class action certification, according to the order.

Taxotere Hair Loss Lawsuits

Sanofi-Aventis introduced Taxotere (docetaxel) in 1996, as a high potency taxane-based cancer drug. Although it was marketed as a superior alternative to existing low-potency taxanes, such as Taxol, a number of women nationwide are now pursuing lawsuits that point to studies that show Taxotere is no more effective at treating breast cancer, yet poses an increased risk of hair loss and balding that may be permanent.

The class action filed on behalf of women from Louisiana, as well as hundreds of individual injury lawsuits brought by women nationwide, allege that Sanofi-Aventis knew about the Taxotere permanent alopecia risk, yet wrongfully withheld information from physicians, healthcare providers, patients and the public.

Taxotere warnings in several other countries were previously updated to include information about the risk of permanent baldness, but that same information was not provided to American women and doctors, according to complaints filed by women nationwide.

Given the similar questions of fact and law raised in cases filed throughout the federal court system, coordinated pretrial proceedings have been established before Judge Engelhardt in the Eastern District of Louisiana to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

While the mass tort management of the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) is often confused with a class action for Taxotere, each of the cases remains an individual claim. Following coordinated discovery and a series of early bellwether trials to gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony, if Taxotere settlements or another resolution for the hair loss claims is not reached, each case may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial in the future.

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