In October, a panel of federal judges decided to consolidate more than 30 Taxotere lawsuits in New Orleans, sending complaints filed in sixteen different federal courts to undergo coordinated pre-trial proceedings in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Only two months later, the Taxotere litigation has grown more than any legal observer could have expected.
As Taxotere Lawsuits Soar, LA Court Moves Quickly
To date, court records show that a total of 334 individual lawsuits have already been consolidated in case number 2:16-md-02740-KDE-MBN, In Re: Taxotere (Docetaxel) Products Liability Litigation. Over 130 of these cases were transferred to the Louisiana court on a single day: December 14, 2016.
In their complaints, women from across the country accuse French pharmaceutical manufacturer Sanofi of concealing evidence that the drug Taxotere, a common chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, can cause permanent hair loss. While multiple studies have found that a significant number of women who receive Taxotere will never regrow their hair, a warning to that effect was only added to the drug’s product labeling on December 11, 2015.
In European markets, on the other hand, mentions of “persistent alopecia” and “unfavorable long-term toxicity” appeared in the chemical’s documentation as early as 2005. Why European patients were made aware of Taxotere’s side effects, but US patients and doctors were kept in the dark, is still an open question. The fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of women have experienced permanent hair loss after receiving Taxotere, however, is not in doubt.
Taxotere MDL Gains Structure & Leadership
When the first 30 Taxotere cases were consolidated, the court in New Orleans was only aware of 56 other “tag-along” lawsuits, scattered across 25 separate district courts. These lawsuits were transferred to Louisiana soon after the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation issued its transfer order.
Few attorneys, however, had any idea how many women would join the growing Taxotere litigation. With the rapid pace of filings, the Honorable Kurt D. Engelhardt, who has been appointed to preside over the litigation, has been working quickly.
Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee & Liaison Counsel
On November 17, 2016, Judge Engelhardt issued the litigation’s second pretrial order, appointing a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, along with Liaison Counsel for both Plaintiffs and Sanofi.
As the Judge outlined in his first pretrial order, the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, or PSC, will tasked with conducting and coordinating the discovery stage of litigation, in which representatives from both sides of the dispute will be able to obtain evidence from their opponent. Among the PSC for the Taxotere MDL are fourteen plaintiffs’ attorneys, hailing from Louisiana, Colorado, California, Minnesota, New York, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Illinois.
The Liaison Counsel, who will handle largely administrative matters, is comprised of attorneys Dawn Barrios and Palmer Lambert, both of whom are based in New Orleans. Defense attorney Douglas J. Moore has been chosen to serve as Liaison Counsel for Sanofi. After a year, Judge Engelhardt’s appointees can either be renewed or replaced.
Direct Filing In Louisiana Federal Court
In his fifth pretrial order, Judge Engelhardt established a protocol for Taxotere cases that have yet to be consolidated. Rather than waiting for the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation to transfer lawsuits to the New Orleans court one-by-one, Judge Engelhardt has ordered attorneys to file their cases directly in the District Court for Louisiana.
The order applies to “any plaintiff whose case would be subject to transfer […], and that could have been filed in any United States District Court.” Attorney who have filed Taxotere lawsuits in other district courts should take note, as should women who have yet to file their own claims. This procedural decision is intended to “promote judicial efficiency.” In brief, to save time and money.
Judge Urges Settlement Discussions Early & Often
Judge Engelhardt has repeatedly announced his desire to encourage settlement, rather than trial, as a way of resolving the litigation. To that end, the Judge appointed two Settlement Committees, one for plaintiffs and another to represent Sanofi in “continuous general settlement discussions,” which will be held on a regular basis.
In Judge Engelhardt’s sixth and most recent pretrial order, the reasoning behind his decision becomes clear. Creating specific committees devoted to settlement negotiations will allow a select group of attorneys to focus solely on the task of achieving a mutually-acceptable agreement. As members of a settlement committee, the attorneys won’t be occupied by “time-consuming tasks [that] would distract counsel from pursuing avenues for potential resolution.”
Five plaintiffs’ attorneys have been selected to participate in settlement negotiations. Four defense attorneys will represent the interests of Sanofi.