Sanofi-Aventis Opposes Certification of Class Action for Taxotere Hair Loss Problems

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The makers of the chemotherapy drug Taxotere have filed a response in opposition to a recent request to certify a class action lawsuit for hair loss problems experienced by women who received the drug to battle breast cancer.

The original complaint was filed in April, on behalf of all women from Louisiana, under the state’s Product Liability Act, alleging that disfiguring and permanent hair loss 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 asked 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.

However, on Monday, Sanofi-Aventis filed a response in opposition (PDF) to the certification of the class action lawsuit over Taxotere, saying there is not enough commonality among the cases, with some women having taken brand-name Taxotere, and others having taken generic docetaxel. The drug maker also argues that women who have experienced hair loss after Taxotere chemotherapy treatments have different pre-existing health conditions, different diagnoses and prognoses, underwent different treatments and experienced different types and degrees of hair loss. Therefore, Sanofi-Aventis maintains that the claims should be pursued as individual lawsuits.

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 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 similar questions of fact and law raised in Taxotere lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, coordinated pretrial proceedings have been established 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 the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) is often confused with a class action for Taxotere, there are already more than 1,000 individual complaints centralized before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, and it is expected that a small group of representative cases will be prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation. However, if Taxotere settlements or another resolution for the hair loss claims is not reached following the MDL proceedings, each individual case may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial in the future.

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