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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Taxotere lawsuits has scheduled four additional bellwether cases for trial over the next two years, which are designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be raised in thousands of similar claims brought by women who have been left with permanent hair loss from the breast cancer drug.
There are currently more than 12,500 product liability claims pending against Sanofi-Aventis in the federal court system, each raising similar allegatins that the drug manufacturer failed to adequately warn about the risk that hair may not regrow following treatment.
While hair loss is a normal side effect of chemotherapy, the lawsuits claim that Sanofi-Aventis provided false and misleading information about the potential side effects of Taxotere. Since similar risks are not associate with other, equally effective treatments, women claim that they never would have agreed to use Taxotere if warnings had been provided.
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 the parties determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of their positions.
The first bellwether trial was held in September 2019, ending in a defense verdict in favor of the drug maker. However, the plaintiff is currently appealing that decision.
In a case management order (PDF) issued on February 21, Judge Milazzo indicated that four more bellwether trials will be scheduled in the litigation. The first trial is slated to begin on August 10, 2020; a second trial is scheduled for October 13, 2020, and two more trials are scheduled for February 1 and April 19, 2021.
Originally, a second trial was set to begin this month, but that case was dismissed on statute of limitation grounds in a January 23 court order (PDF).
While the outcomes of these early trial dates will not be binding on the thousands of claims brought by other women, 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.