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Direct Filing of Taxotere Lawsuits Over Hair Loss Permitted in MDL to Avoid Delay

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As a growing number of women nationwide continue to file Taxotere lawsuits, alleging that they have been left with permanent hair loss after receiving the controversial breast cancer drug, the U.S. District Judge recently appointed to presided over coordinated pretrial proceedings in the federal court system has approved direct filing of new cases into the multidistrict litigation (MDL).

There are currently about 200 complaints pending against Sanofi-Aventis over failure to warn about the risk of permanent hair loss that may be caused by side effects of Taxotere. However, as women continue to file cases in the coming weeks and months, it is ultimately expected that more than 1,000 cases will eventually be brought nationwide.

Given the similar questions of fact and law raised in the lawsuits, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued an order in October 2016, indicating that cases filed in various different U.S. District Courts nationwide should be transferred to the Eastern District of Louisiana for coordinated management during discovery and pretrial proceedings.

While the cases were originally assigned to U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, he recused himself shortly after the MDL was established and the U.S. JPML reassigned the Taxotere litigation (PDF) to U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.

In a pretrial order (PDF) issued on December 9, Judge Engelhardt approved the direct filing of new Taxotere lawsuits into the MDL, allowing cases to be brought in the Eastern District of Louisiana to avoid delays associated with transferring cases from different federal district courts and to promote judicial efficiency.

Judge Engelhardt states that the defendants shall not assert any objection of improper venue for cases that should have been filed outside of the Eastern District of Louisiana. Upon completion of the pretrial proceedings in the MDL, if Taxotere settlements or another resolution for the cases is not reached, the Court will transfer each case to the federal district court where the plaintiff was injured or resided at the time of her, according to the order.

Taxotere Hair Loss Risks

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.

While hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy, it is usually temporary. 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, withholding reports of on-going hair problems experienced by users of the high-potency taxane.

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 alopecia risk, that same information was not provided to American women or doctors.

As part of the coordinated MDL proceedings, it is expected that Judge Engelhardt will establish a “bellwether” process, where a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.

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