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To help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated in various Taxotere hair loss lawsuits brought by women nationwide, four representative cases have been selected for a series of bellwether trials expected to begin later this year.
There are currently more than 5,600 product liability complaints pending against the makers of the chemotherapy drug, Sanofi-Aventis, each raising similar allegations that inadequate warnings were provided about the risk of permanent hair loss linked to Taxotere.
Although hair loss is a known and accepted part of chemotherapy, plaintiffs maintain that other, equally effective breast cancer treatment options do not carry the same risk of permanent hair problems, and that they never would have elected to receive Taxotere treatments if the known risks had been disclosed.
Given similar questions of fact and law presented in claims filed by women nationwide, the litigation is 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, to help tests the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s position.
In a case management order (PDF) issued on March 9, Judge Engelhardt identified the four cases that the parties nominated and ranked for the second phase of discovery. One of those four will be selected for the first bellwether trial set to begin on September 24.
Durden’s claim was the top pick, involving allegations that the New Orleans resident was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2011 and underwent six rounds of Taxotere treatment from October 2011 until February 2012, allegedly resulting in permanent and disfiguring hair loss.
If the Taxotere cases are not settled or otherwise resolved following the first trial, Judge Engelhardt has set a series of additional jury trials throughout 2019, with cases set to begin on January 28, April 8, July 15, and November 4, 2019.
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 Engelhardt may eventually be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial date.