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More Than 9,000 Taxotere Cases Over Long-Term Hair Loss Pending in MDL

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A growing number of women nationwide continue to file product liability lawsuits over permanent hair loss from Taxotere, alleging that the manufacturers of the breast cancer drug withheld information about the long-term side effects, which are not associated with other available chemotherapy drugs. 

Sanofi-Aventis currently faces more than 9,000 Taxotere lawsuits in the federal court system, each raising nearly identical allegations that women were left with disfiguring hair problems following breast cancer treatments with Taxotere.

Although hair loss or alopecia is a common and accepted side effect of chemotherapy, plaintiffs allege that the drug maker provided false and misleading information, which suggested that hair will regrow following treatment. However, side effects of Taxotere have been linked to reports of thinning hair or balding, which continues long after treatment, and is considered permanent. Plaintiffs maintain that they would have taken used, equally effective, breast cancer treatments if this risk had been disclosed.

Given similar questions of fact and law presented in claims filed by women nationwide, the federal litigation was originally 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 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. Since then, the cases have been reassigned to District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo, after Judge Engelhardt was confirmed as a Circuit Court Judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2018.

In a joint report (PDF) submitted by the parties on Tuesday, the status of the litigation was updated, noting that the number of claims continues to grow, with at least 9,138 Taxotere cases currently pending in the MDL. That makes it the fifth largest active mass-tort litigation in the United States at this time.

In addition to Taxotere cases pending in the federal court system, there are also a number of lawsuits filed at the state level in California, Illinois, New Jersey and Delaware. While most were removed to federal court, parties are coordinating with the remaining state cases as well, allowing state court counsel to participate in status conferences and taking other actions to ensure efficient coordination, the report indicates.

Judge Milazzo has scheduled the first trial for May 13, 2019, with additional trials expected to start on September 16, 2019; January 27, 2020; May 11, 2020; and September 14, 2020.

While the outcomes of these early trial dates will not be binding on the thousands of other women pursuing cases, they may influence Taxotere settlement negotiations. Following the bellwether trials, if the drug maker fails to resolve the litigation, hundreds of individual cases may be remanded back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for separate trial dates in the coming years.

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