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06 January 2017

With 600+ Lawsuits Consolidated, Taxotere MDL Gains Structure & Direction

Since being consolidated on October 4, 2016, the Taxotere Multi-District Litigation has grown swiftly, gaining significant ground in both total lawsuits filed and organizational structure. In just three short months, over 600 lawsuits filed on behalf of breast cancer patients have been centralized in the US District Court for Louisiana, Eastern Division. Under the guidance of the Court’s Chief Judge, the Honorable Kurt D. Engelhardt, these lawsuits will continue through crucial pre-trial proceedings as a coordinated group.

Is Multi-District Litigation Good For Plaintiffs?

Most legal observers believe that Multi-District Litigation provides plaintiffs, rather than defendants, with (at least) an organizational advantage. In filing their lawsuits, individual breast cancer patients are, in a very real sense, taking on a gigantic corporation. Sanofi is currently the 5th largest pharmaceutical company in the world, according to ProClinical, with revenues in excess of $43 billion per year. The company’s legal defense resources are undoubtedly vast.

As individual plaintiffs, few patients would have any hope of outlasting one of the world’s biggest drug makers in a protracted legal battle.

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In a Multi-District Litigation, these plaintiffs, along with their individual legal representatives, can be brought together and allowed to benefit from cooperative thinking.

Once the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation has decided that a slate of lawsuits are appropriate for consolidation, the cases will be transferred to a single federal court. That brings numerous plaintiffs and numerous attorneys under one roof, but they won’t be organized yet. In order to provide structure to a complicated situation, the MDL’s presiding judge will appoint a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC). This team of attorneys has one, and only one, duty: to effectively represent the interests of all plaintiffs whose cases have been consolidated.

Taxotere Lawsuits: Common Questions Of Fact

Lawsuits are consolidated because they share critical questions of fact in common. In the Taxotere litigation, for example, the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation determined that each lawsuit revolved around the same set of factual allegations:

  • Plaintiffs say that Taxotere causes permanent hair loss
  • Each plaintiff experienced permanent hair loss, which they believe was caused by Taxotere
  • Plaintiffs claim that Sanofi knew that Taxotere could cause permanent hair loss
  • Plaintiffs accuse Sanofi of failing to warn breast cancer patients about Taxotere’s link to permanent hair loss
  • Plaintiffs allege that Sanofi marketed Taxotere as more effective than alternative treatments, even though alternative chemo agents, which do not cause permanent hair loss, are just as effective as Taxotere

While each patient’s personal journey is unique, the success or failure of their individual lawsuit will hinge on the answers to these shared questions.

How A Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee Works

The Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee’s main job is to search out and analyze the evidence that will answer common questions of fact, the allegations that are central to each lawsuit. They won’t do it alone.

On the contrary, the PSC will supervise and direct the efforts of numerous lawyers and paralegals, who will be tasked with reviewing internal corporate documents, questioning witnesses in depositions and drafting various briefs. Throughout this process, the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee is guiding the litigation toward potential trials, hoping to build the best case for plaintiffs.

Actual trials, though, are unlikely to involve members of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (unless your attorney happens to have been appointed to the PSC). Keep in mind that each plaintiff has hired their own individual attorney as legal representation. If a case goes to trial, it does so alone, but each lawyer will have been provided a trial packet, filled with key pieces of evidence, that itself was prepared by the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.

This way of structuring a litigation allows for a degree of specialization: the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee can focus on common questions of fact, leaving each plaintiffs’ individual lawyer to concentrate solely on matters unique to their client.

New Appointments In Taxotere MDL

Judge Engelhardt has gone a step further in organizing the Taxotere litigation. In order to “facilitate efficient management of the Plaintiffs’ case,” the Judge issued a Court Order on December 28, 2016, appointing an additional Committee, the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee. This Committee’s four members will coordinate and oversee duties carried out by the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, along with scheduling meetings of the PSC.

Attorneys Christopher L. Coffin, Karen Barth Menzies, J. Kyle Bachus and David F. Miceli, who are all also members of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, have been selected to serve on this high-level Committee.

Dawn M. Barrios, currently serving as Liaison Counsel for plaintiffs, has been appointed as Plaintiffs’ Federal-State Liaison Counsel. In this capacity, Barrios will act as the administrative mediator between the consolidated Taxotere litigation (centralized in a federal court) and similar lawsuits that are still pending in other jurisdictions, including state courts. Even though the US District Court of Lousiana has become a hub for Taxotere lawsuits, developments that arise in other jurisdictions can’t be missed. Barrios has been selected to keep tabs on these “parallel” actions and, as Judge Engelhardt wrote in Pretrial Order 8, “coordinate the different litigations and foster cooperation between them.”

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