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Series of Five Bellwether Trials Over Taxotere Hair Loss Set to Begin May 2019

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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Taxotare hair loss cases has scheduled a series of five “bellwether” trials, which will begin in May 2019 to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout thousands of lawsuits involving the controversial breast cancer drug. 

More than 5,600 product liability lawsuits have been filed against Sanofi-Aventis by women who indicate they were left with permanent hair loss after Taxotere use during breast cancer chemotherapy treatments.

Although hair loss is a known and accepted part of chemotherapy, plaintiffs indicate that the drug maker indicated that hair typically regrows, and that other equally effective treatment options have not been linked to problems with permanent hair loss.

Given similar questions of fact and law presented in claims filed by women nationwide, the federal litigation was originally 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 established a “bellwether” process, which will prepare small groups of cases for early trial dates, to help tests the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s position. Since then, the cases have been reassigned to District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo, after Judge Engelhardt was confirmed as a Circuit Court Judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in May.

In a case management order (PDF) issued on June 13, Judge Milazzo issued a schedule leading up to the first trial, which is slated to begin on May 13, 2019. Additional trials will be held starting September 16, 2019; January 27, 2020; May 11, 2020; and September 14, 2020.

The first case to go before a jury will be selected from a pool of four claims, filed by Antoinette Durden (PDF)Tanya Francis (PDF)Barbara Earnest (PDF), and Lisa Tuyes (PDF). All of the women are residents of Louisiana. One of the four will be selected for the first trial later this summer.

Final selection for the second trial will be made by January 11, 2019. Currently, there is a trial pool of a total of 16 claims for those first five trials, and another 24 cases will be added to that pool by November 1, 2018.

The next general status conference is set for July 18.

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, suggesting that hair would regrow following treatment. At the same time, the drug maker was allegedly withholding reports of on-going hair problems experienced by women nationwide.

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 hair loss 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 Milazzo may eventually be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial date.

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