Defense Verdict Handed Down in First Taxotere Bellwether Trial - Consumer Justice Foundation

Defense Verdict Handed Down in First Taxotere Bellwether Trial

Written by Faith Anderson on October 11, 2019
Taxotere Breast Cancer Treatment and Hair Loss

Drug maker Sanofi was cleared of liability in the first Taxotere bellwether trial to go to court in the Taxotere multidistrict litigation (MDL), involving claims that the chemotherapy medication causes patients to lose their hair permanently. There are multiple pharmaceutical companies currently facing more than 11,000 lawsuits over claims that the use of the breast cancer medication, Taxotere, and its generic version, docetaxel, causes patients to suffer persistent or permanent hair loss. The plaintiff in this first bellwether case, Barbara Earnest, alleged in the lawsuit that her use of Taxotere from June 2011 to November 2011 caused her to experience “disfiguring permanent alopecia.” If you underwent chemotherapy treatment with Taxotere and you have since experienced hair loss that is persistent or permanent, contact our consumer advocates at Consumer Justice Foundation today for help.

Taxotere Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Drug

Taxotere (docetaxel) is an intravenous chemotherapy medication used to treat several different types of cancer, including cancers of the breast, lung, stomach, prostate and head or neck, although it is most commonly used in the treatment of breast cancer. Taxotere was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 and belongs to a class of drugs known as taxanes, which are designed to block cell growth by stopping mitosis, or cell division. Unfortunately, in targeting rapidly dividing cells, Taxotere affects both cancer cells and healthy cells, including hair follicles, which are some of the fastest-growing cells in the body. Some chemotherapy treatments affect only the hair on a person’s head, while others can cause the loss of eyebrows, eyelashes, public hair and the hair on a person’s arms, legs and underarms.  

Persistent or Permanent Hair Loss from Taxotere Treatment

Although temporary hair loss is a well-known side effect of chemotherapy treatment, Taxotere use has been linked to permanent hair loss, a condition known as chemotherapy-induced alopecia, and thousands of women treated with Taxotere are now struggling with the reality of permanent hair loss. Baldness that persists during and after chemotherapy can result in lowered self-esteem, body image problems, feelings of insecurity and a diminished quality of life, especially for women, who have reported feeling judged and exposed because of their hair loss. According to one study, “[chemotherapy-induced alopecia] appears to have a major impact, particularly on body image and quality of life” among patients with cancer, and while some patients undergoing chemotherapy may see at least some of their hair grow back within one to three months after completing treatment, for others, their baldness may become permanent.

Taxotere Users Were Never Warned About Hair Loss Risk

According to Earnest’s Taxotere lawsuit, filed in September 2018, drug makers have known for years about the potential for the chemotherapy drug to cause permanent hair loss, but failed to warn about this “disfiguring” side effect. “Plaintiffs are stigmatized with the universal cancer signifier – baldness – long after they underwent cancer treatment, and their hair loss acts as a permanent reminder that they are cancer victims,” the lawsuit states. Taxotere users who report experiencing persistent or permanent hair loss after completing their chemotherapy treatment say they were never told that they could suffer chemotherapy-induced alopecia from their use of Taxotere. If they had been warned about this significant potential side effect, they could have at least made an informed decision about the risk-benefit ratio with regard to their cancer treatment.

Tens of Thousands of Lawsuits Pending in Taxotere MDL

There are approximately 12,000 Taxotere lawsuits pending in the ongoing Taxotere litigation and the lawsuits all include similar allegations that Sanofi failed to warn Taxotere users and the medical community that the chemotherapy drug used during the treatment of cancer can cause permanent hair loss. The Taxotere hair loss lawsuits have been consolidated for coordinated pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, from which a handful of bellwether cases were selected for early consideration and set for trial. In mass tort law, bellwether trials are test cases designed to represent a broader group of similar cases dealing with a widely contested issue, such as pharmaceutical drug side effects. The results of bellwether trials are used as a gauge for how the other cases in an MDL may turn out, so the involved parties can determine how to proceed in addressing the remaining cases.

What This Verdict Means for Future Taxotere Cases

Although this first Taxotere bellwether trial resulted in a defense verdict, that doesn’t mean the remaining cases in the Taxotere MDL are doomed. The results of a bellwether trial have no definitive bearing on the potential outcomes of the other cases in the MDL. Ideally, in trying a representative sample of cases during the bellwether process, lawyers representing both sides can gain useful information about how the judge or jury perceives the argument for the purpose of moving towards a settlement. For instance, in a bellwether trial where the plaintiff is awarded a significant verdict, the defense may be more likely to settle the remaining cases out of court, in order to avoid costly future litigation. In bellwether cases where a defense verdict is handed down, attorneys representing plaintiffs in the remaining cases can use the information gleaned from the unsuccessful trial to restructure their cases and arguments in order to improve their chances of a favorable outcome in court.

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