No class action has been filed over Taxotere, a chemotherapy drug that women say causes permanent hair loss. Instead, breast cancer patients are filing individual personal injury lawsuits and cancer misdiagnosis lawsuits against the chemo agent’s manufacturer, French multinational Sanofi.
A small – but growing – group of women have accused Sanofi of concealing the link between Taxotere and permanent hair loss. In their lawsuits, filed in federal courts across the country, over 30 women say that the company has been aware of this potential danger for more than a decade – but did nothing to warn US cancer patients.
With recent calls for these Taxotere lawsuits to be consolidated in a Louisiana federal court, legal experts believe that hundreds of other women – patients who received Taxotere and never regrew their hair – may also be entitled to file suit.
But this isn’t a class action lawsuit, and it’s unlikely that any attorneys will file a Taxotere class action in the future. In general, class action isn’t appropriate for people who have suffered major personal losses.
In a class action, one or two people will file suit against a defendant (usually a large corporate defendant), but they will do so on behalf of other “similarly-situated” individuals. These other class members – who believe they were injured in a similar way – will be able to join the class action in time. But major litigation decisions – including whether to accept a settlement offer – are left to the discretion of the class action’s “representative” plaintiffs – the people who first filed the lawsuit. Additional plaintiffs, of course, will be able to reap the benefits of a settlement or jury verdict, but have little control over the course of litigation.
That’s why class action is usually reserved for litigations in which a large number of people – hundreds or thousands – have been injured in relatively minor ways.
When people have suffered significant injuries – especially when pharmaceutical products are involved – individual personal injury lawsuits are far more common. But making the litigation process efficient is still an admirable goal. When multiple people sue the same pharmaceutical manufacturer over alleged side effects, the federal court system will often “consolidate” their claims.
In essence, “consolidation” involves sending all of the lawsuits to a single federal court. Guided by a single judge, the lawsuits will proceed through pre-trial phases of litigation together, sharing evidence and crafting legal arguments in common. But every lawsuit remains individual, and every plaintiff retains complete control over their own claim. This process is called “Multi-District Litigation,” or MDL.
Today, cancer patients have filed more than 30 Taxotere lawsuits. But their claims are still scattered between 16 different federal courts. Due to the striking similarity in their allegations, the prospect of MDL is becoming more and more likely. In fact, two Plaintiffs have already requested consolidation, petitioning the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation in July of 2016. In their request, the women have asked for a transfer of Taxotere lawsuits to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Whether or not the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (JPML) will see fit to consolidate the cases remains an open question. The JPML is slated to hear oral arguments on the issue on September 29, 2016.
Taxotere is a common chemotherapy drug administered to breast cancer patients. As with most chemo drugs, many women experience a measure of hair loss after beginning treatment – but in up to 6% of patients, Taxotere causes permanent hair loss.
Many women say that Sanofi became aware of this risk years ago – as early as the drug’s pre-approval clinical trials. Over-seas, the drug’s European prescribing information has carried extensive references to “persistent alopecia” – hair loss that does not improve – since 2005. But Taxotere’s labeling in the United States, per the US Food & Drug Administration, never mentioned the possibility of permanent hair loss until 2015. That, in brief, is the problem, according to breast cancer patients.
Like any chemotherapy agent, Taxotere can be a life-saving agent. Some women would surely accept the risk of permanent hair loss – if only to stay alive. But there are two facts that seem to complicate this logic. One, as we’ve already mentioned, is that women accuse Sanofi of failing to inform American patients of the drug’s hair loss risk. People, after all, have the right to make fully-informed medical decisions.
The other problem? An effective alternative to Taxotere is readily available on the US market. The drug is called paclitaxel. Both chemicals work in a similar way, although recent research suggests that paclitaxel may be even more effective than Taxotere. Beyond that, paclitaxel is far less toxic than Taxotere – and it hasn’t been linked to permanent hair loss. Patients have argued that – if they had been warned of Taxotere’s risks – they would have chosen paclitaxel instead.