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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all Taxotere lawsuits has granted a defense motion to dismiss a small number of cases filed after new warnings were added about the risk of permanent hair loss linked to the chemotherapy drug. However, Sanofi-Aventis continues to face more than 12,000 claims brought by women nationwide.
While hair loss is a normal side effect of chemotherapy, the lawsuits claim the makers of the breast cancer drug provided false and misleading information about the potential hair loss risk with Taxotere.
Plaintiffs allege Sanofi-Aventis failed to adequately warn about the risk hair may not regrow following treatment. Since similar problems are not associated with other, equally effective treatments, women claim they never would have agreed to use Taxotere if the risk had been disclosed.
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 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.
On May 27, Judge Milazzo issued a court order (PDF) which granted the drug maker’s motion to dismiss nearly 200 cases, each involving lawsuits filed by women who used Taxotere after Sanofi-Aventis updated the warning labels in December 2015, to provide information for consumers and the medical community about the risk of permanent alopecia. However, all other claims are continuing to move forward.
As part of the coordinated proceedings in the Taxotere MDL, Judge Milazzo established a “bellwether” process, which involves a small small groups of cases 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.
Given the current situation with the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, plans for three other bellweather trials were put on hold, and it is unclear when the bellwether cases will continue. However, in a case management order (PDF) issued on May 26, Judge Milazzo announced he was adding a fifth bellwether trial and included four more claims to the bellwether trial pool.
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.