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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Taxotere lawsuits has delayed the start of the first “bellwether” trials, which will be closely watched to help gauge how juries may respond to evidence that will be repeated throughout thousands of claims brought by women left with permanent hair loss following exposure to the breast cancer drug.
There are currently more than 12,000 product liability claims pending against Sanofi-Aventis, each raising similar claims that the drug manufacturer failed to adequately warn about the risk of permanent hair loss from Taxotere, which has not been associated with other, equally effective, breast cancer treatments.
While hair loss is a normal side effect of chemotherapy, the lawsuits allege that Sanofi-Aventis provided false and misleading information, which suggested that hair would regrow following treatment. However, exposure to Taxotere has been linked to reports of thinning and balding that continues long after treatments are over.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, the lawsuits are all centralized before U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo in the Eastern District of Louisiana, as part of a federal Multidistrict Litigation, or MDL. The process is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.
As part of the coordinated proceedings in the Taxotere MDL, Judge Milazzo established a “bellwether” process, which involves a small small groups of cases that are being prepared for early trial dates, to help tests the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s position.
Last year, the first of five bellwether trials was scheduled to begin in May 13, 2019, with additional cases expected to go before juries on September 16, 2019; January 27, 2020; May 11, 2020; and September 14, 2020.
However, on March 22, Judge Milazzo issued a case management order (PDF) indicating that the trial set to begin on May 13 has been continued until September 16, delaying the start of the bellwether claims.
While the outcomes of these early trial dates will not be binding on the thousands of other women pursuing cases, they are being closely watched and will likely have a big influence on eventual Taxotere settlement negotiations, which would be necessary for the drug maker to avoid thousands of separate trial dates in U.S. District Courts nationwide in the coming years.