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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Taxotere lawsuits has identified three additional cases that will proceed with discovery in preparation for a fourth bellwether trial, which is designed to help gauge how juries may respond to claims brought by women left with permanent hair loss following use of the breast cancer treatment.
Sanofi-Aventis currently faces more than 12,500 product liability claims brought by women nationwide, each involving similar allegations the drug maker failed to adequately disclose that side effects of Taxotere may include permanent hair loss, which is not associated with other breast cancer treatments that are equally as effective.
While hair loss is a normal side effect of chemotherapy, the lawsuits claim Sanofi-Aventis provided false and misleading information suggesting hair would regrow following treatment with Taxotere. However, plaintiffs indicate they could have avoided the permanent problems by using a less toxic breast cancer treatment if proper warnings had been provided.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, all lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide are centralized as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Eastern District of Louisiana, where U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has been presiding over coordinated discovery and a series of early “bellwether” trials designed to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.
After a first bellwether trial ended in a defense verdict in September 2019, and a second trial set to begin in earl 2020 was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds, a case filed by Elizabeth Kahn was scheduled for trial to begin on February 1, 2021. However, that trial has been continued, with a new trial date not yet announced.
It is unclear if the delay of the third trial will also lead to a delay of the fourth, which was previously expected to begin in April 2021.
In a case management order (PDF) issued on December 28, Judge Milazo designated three claims to be eligible for the fourth bellwether trial date, including claims brought by Emma Willie, Cindy Smith, and Melissa Roach. Case specific discovery will now proceed in each of the claims, before the specific case will be selected for trial.
While the outcome of the bellwether cases will not have a binding effect on the claims brought by other women, they will be closely watched by parties involved in the litigation and will likely have a big influence on any 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.