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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Taxotere hair loss lawsuits has ordered the parties involved in the litigation to participate in a settlement conference next summer, before the first bellwether trial is expected to go before a jury in September 2018.
There are currently about 1,250 product liability lawsuits pending against Sanofi-Aventis, over failure to warn about the risk of permanent hair loss linked side effects of Taxotere, which has not been associated with other, equally effective breast cancer treatment options.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established coordinated pretrial proceedings in October 2016, centralizing all cases before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt in the Eastern District of Louisiana as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
Although hair loss is a known and accepted part of chemotherapy, women maintain that the drug maker provided false and misleading information that suggested hair regrows following Taxotere treatment, which is not the case for many women. In addition, plaintiffs indicate that if they had been warned about this risk, they would have elected to receive other breast cancer treatments that do not carry the same permanent hair problems.
As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings in the Taxotere MDL, Judge Engelhardt has established a “bellwether” process, which will prepare a small group of cases for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation. The court has selected 10 cases to serve as potential bellwether trials.
According to a case management order (PDF) issued on July 21, the first trial is expected to begin in September 2018. However, Judge Engelhardt has ordered the parties to meet with a magistrate judge for a Taxotere settlement conference by June 29, 2018. The order also requires the parties to submit a Joint Confidential Status Report by July 6, 2018.
If the parties are unable to reach agreements to settle Taxotere lawsuits, the bellwether trials will proceed to allow the parties to gauge the relative strengths and weaknesses of their cases.
Taxotere Hair Loss Problems
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.
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.
If Taxotere settlements or another resolution for the litigation is not reached following the bellwether trials in the MDL, each individual case pending before Judge Engelhardt may eventually be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial date.