Nearly 1,600 breast cancer patients and survivors have filed suit against Sanofi-Aventis, saying the company’s chemo drug Taxotere causes permanent hair loss.
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Did you see a commercial alerting viewers of a growing litigation around the chemotherapy drug Taxotere? A number of law firms have begun to produce ads like this, informing cancer patients and survivors that Taxotere, one of the most common treatments for breast cancer, has been linked to a substantial risk for permanent hair loss. That might come as a surprise.
Although many chemotherapy agents cause temporary forms of hair loss, or alopecia, Taxotere is currently one of only two chemo drugs associated to permanent alopecia. In fact, over a decade of research suggests that between 3% and 10% of all Taxotere patients will never regrow their hair. Learn more: Years Of Research Confirm Taxotere Hair Loss Can Be Permanent.
Yet more than 1,500 product liability lawsuits accuse Sanofi-Aventis, the drug’s manufacturer, of concealing this risk from the public. And while it won’t feature prominently in most attorney commercials, the Taxotere lawsuits have been “consolidated” in a Louisiana federal court as a Multi-District Litigation, or MDL. That means that the vast majority of claims filed in a federal court, regardless of the original jurisdiction, will likely be transferred to New Orleans, and the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
There, over 1,000 lawsuits are now going through pre-trial proceedings as a group. Evidence is being gathered in common, allowing every plaintiff to benefit from the latest information. Sanofi-Aventis has also gained from the efficiency of coordination. Instead of filing motions in federal courts scattered across the country, the French company can focus defense efforts in a single jurisdiction.
More pertinently, an appointed panel of plaintiffs’ attorneys can engage in settlement negotiations on behalf of the entire litigation, rather than their isolated clients. Multi-District Litigation is designed to promote resolution, not just of one case, but all of them.
To speed up this process, the Honorable Kurt D. Engelhardt, the District Judge selected to preside over the MDL, has already scheduled four bellwether trials. In the coming months, plaintiffs and Sanofi will come together to choose four different lawsuits that should go to trial first. Each of these lawsuits will then be heard before a real jury, who will review the evidence and arguments and ultimately make a legally-binding decision on Sanofi’s liability, or lack thereof.
Juries will almost certainly hear that Sanofi-Aventis acknowledged the risk of permanent hair loss in European regulatory filings dating back to at least 2009. Attorneys are also sure to mention the odd fact that a similar warning for United States patients and doctors was only issued in 2015.
The work of Dr. Scot Sedlacek, an oncologist at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, will also make an appearance. In 2006, Sedlacek found that, out of nearly 500 breast cancer patients who had received Taxotere, up to 6% experienced alopecia for an average of four years.
Juries will also be told about the wealth of studies that have compared the effects of Taxotere to the drug’s closest competitor, a chemotherapy agent sold as Taxol. Taxotere and Taxol are both considered taxanes; they belong to a class of chemicals, derived from plants, that stop cancer cells from dividing. But Taxotere is twice as toxic as Taxol. The real problem, however, is that Taxotere doesn’t seem to be any better at beating cancer. In fact, a number of recent studies have even found that Taxol, not Taxotere, is the more effective chemotherapy in breast cancer patients.
Needless to say, many patients believe they were sold a bill of goods. Not only is Taxotere more dangerous than Taxol, they argue, it doesn’t even work as well. After hearing all of this evidence, the four bellwether juries will make their decision. None of the other cases will be directly affected, but these early judgments will certainly make waves in settlement conferences.
There’s still time for breast cancer patients who have yet to step forward. If you or a loved one developed permanent hair loss after being administered Taxotere, contact our experienced product liability lawyers today for a free consultation. We can help you understand your legal options and make the right decision. Financial compensation may be available, but prompt action is necessary. Just call or complete our online contact form for more information.