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The first federal “bellwether” trial for a Taxotere hair loss lawsuit is expected to begin in September 2018, and the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation indicates that at least four additional cases will go to trial throughout 2019.
There are currently more than 1,600 product liability complaints pending against Sanofi-Aventis, each raising similar allegations that the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the risk of permanent hair loss linked to side effects of Taxotere, which has not been associated with other, equally effective breast cancer treatment options.
Although hair loss is a known and accepted part of chemotherapy, women maintain that the drug maker provided false and misleading information that suggested hair regrows following Taxotere treatment, which is not the case for many women. In addition, plaintiffs indicate that if they had been warned about this risk, they would have elected to receive other breast cancer treatments that do not carry the same permanent hair problems.
Given similar questions of fact and law presented by plaintiffs, the cases are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt in the Eastern District of Louisiana, as part of a federal Multidistrict Litigation, or MDL, which 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 Engelhardt has established a “bellwether” process, which will prepare small groups of cases for early trial dates. This process is designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation.
In July, Judge Engelhardt identified ten potential cases for the first bellwether trial date, which is scheduled to begin on September 24, 2018. However, the parties have been directed to meet for a Taxotere settlement conference next summer, to discuss potential resolutions for the litigation.
If the Taxotere cases are not settled or otherwise resolved following the first trial, Judge Engelhardt has set a series of four additional jury trials throughout 2019, with cases set to begin on January 28, April 8, July 15, and November 4 of 2019.
In a case management order (PDF), the pretrial schedule for the second bellwether case was outlined, indicating that the parties will each select four cases as options for the second trial. Those eight proposed cases will go through a phased discovery process, which will conclude in June 2018. The list will then be narrowed to four trial plaintiffs, which will go through a second phase of discovery, which will be completed by August 2018. Following expert discovery and motions, the parties will meet for a final pre-trial conference on January 17, with the trial commencing the week of January 28.
Future orders will be issued regarding the pretrial schedule for the remaining three cases.
Taxotere Hair Loss Problems
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.
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.
If Taxotere settlements or another resolution for the litigation is not reached following the bellwether trials in the MDL, each individual case pending before Judge Engelhardt may eventually be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial date.