Taxotere Class Action Certification Sought Over Permanent Alopecia Risks

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Taxotere lawsuits, which involve claims that the controversial breast cancer drug carries a risk of permanent hair loss problems, is being asked to certify a class action claim filed against Sanofi Aventis late last year.

The complaint was brought on behalf of all women from Louisiana, under the state’s Product Liability Act, alleging that disfiguring alopecia problems associated with the side effects of Taxotere are a direct result of the drug maker’s breach of obligations owed to consumers.

In a motion (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on April 25, plaintiffs Sheila Matthews, Debra Chetta and Emily Barre ask that the putative Taxotere class action be certified, since the number of Louisiana women affected by the drug is so large that no other form of handling the litigation would suffice.

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“The claims of the members of the putative class are so numerous as to make mass joinder an ineffective tool,” the lawsuit states. “Moreover, common issues predominate over any individual issues that may exist and certification is the superior procedural device to handle these cases. Class certification would result in a definable class boundaries and in a single liability trial on the predominant issues.”

Taxotere Alopecia Risks

Sanofi-Aventis introduced Taxotere (docetaxel) in 1996, as a high potency taxane-based cancer drug. Although it was marketed as a superior alternative to existing low-potency taxanes, such as Taxol, a number of women nationwide are now pursuing lawsuits that point to studies that show Taxotere is no more effective at treating breast cancer, yet poses an increased risk of hair loss and balding that may be permanent.

The class action claim filed on behalf of women from Louisiana, as well as hundreds of individual injury lawsuits brought by women nationwide, allege that Sanofi-Aventis knew about the Taxotere permanent alopecia risk, yet wrongfully withheld information from physicians, healthcare providers, patients and the public.

Taxotere warnings in several other countries were previously updated to include information about the risk of permanent baldness, but that same information was not provided to American women and doctors, according to complaints filed by women nationwide.

Given the large number of individual cases filed by women left with permanent alopecia following Taxotere exposure, the federal litigation has been centralized before one judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

While the management of individual cases in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) is similar to a class action over the Taxotere alopecia problems, each claim remains a separate case that must be presented to a jury if the parties fail to negotiate a Taxotere settlement to resolve large numbers of cases.

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