Taxotere Victim: ‘I’d rather have lost my breasts than my hair’

The damage caused by the breast cancer drug Taxotere is personal and traumatic. Breast cancer patient Shirley Ledlie, 56, wasn’t told the drug causes total, permanent hair loss. When the drug destroyed her appearance, she wished she had lost her breasts rather than her hair.

“I couldn’t believe it. I felt like a complete freak,” she said. “I just couldn’t accept I would spend the rest of my life without my hair. It was the one part of me everyone complimented me on.”

She’s not the only one. Taxotere patient Christine wrote on the online support group A Head of Our Time, about “the horror of the loss of our hair.”

“I will never forget leaving the dermatologist’s rooms after being told that my lack of hair growth was due to my particular cocktail of chemo drugs, the likely culprit being Taxotere. I was utterly devastated as I felt I had lost my femininity and aged another 20 years, all at once. It was so much worse than losing a breast to cancer,” she wrote.

Four years into the mass tort litigation against Taxotere maker Sanofi, thousands of plaintiffs are still waiting for a verdict or settlement for their damages.

There are 12,658 federal lawsuits pending in MDL 2740, created in 2016, before US District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt of the Eastern District of Louisiana, IN RE: Taxotere (Docetaxel) Products Liability Litigation.

Meanwhile, there are 350 state Taxotere lawsuits in a multicounty litigation (MCL) docket before Superior Court Judge James F. Hyland in New Brunswick, NJ.

The defendants include a dozen Taxotere manufacturers and distributors:

  1. Sanofi US Services Inc. f/k/a Sanofi-Aventis U.S. Inc.
  2. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC
  3. Sandoz Inc.
  4. Accord Healthcare, Inc.
  5. McKesson Corporation d/b/a McKesson Packaging
  6. Hospira Worldwide, LLC f/k/a Hospira Worldwide, Inc.
  7. Hospira, Inc.
  8. Sun Pharma Global FZE
  9. Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, Inc. f/k/a Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories Ltd.
  10. Pfizer Inc.
  11. Actavis LLC f/k/a Actavis Inc.
  12. Actavis Pharma, Inc.

The plaintiffs charge that the companies knew Taxotere could cause permanent hair loss, failed to warn doctors and patients about it, and falsely marketed Taxotere.

Potential plaintiffs are breast cancer survivors who were prescribed Taxotere before December 2015 and suffered permanent baldness, otherwise known as alopecia.

Permanent alopecia is a disfiguring condition, especially for women. Women who have experienced disfiguring permanent alopecia as a result of the use of Taxotere suffer great mental anguish as well as economic damages, including loss of work or inability to work due to significant psychological damage.

The federal short form complaint allows plaintiffs to allege strict products liability – failure to warn, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, and fraud and deceit.

Defense Verdict in First Trial

The first bellwether trial for plaintiff Barbara Earnest resulted in a defense verdict on September 26, 2019. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and was prescribed Taxotere. She lost her hair permanently.

Attorney Karen Barth Menzies of the Gibbs Law Group in Los Angeles, said, “We are certainly disappointed with the verdict. However, the trial was littered with evidentiary violations by the defense from opening statement on. These were highly prejudicial, so much so that the court had to give the jury curative instructions on three separate occasions, and we were compelled to move for a mistrial before closing arguments. Mrs. Earnest intends to seek appropriate post-trial relief.”

The jury did not believe that Barbara Earnest had permanent chemotherapy-induced alopecia caused by Taxotere.

Mrs. Earnest’s additional attorneys were Darin Schanker of Bachus & Schanker in Denver, Rand Nolen of Fleming Nolen Jez in Houston, Christopher Coffin of Pendley, Baudin & Coffin in New Orleans, and David Miceli of Miceli Law in Carrollton, Georgia.

The trial was especially contentious, with Sanofi seeking to delay the trial, filing multiple failed motions to dismiss, and attempting to get information on outside funding for the litigation. The company’s lawyers included Hildy Sastre of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, and lawyers from the New Orleans firm Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore.

No Warnings About Hair Loss

The FDA approved Taxotere in 1996 as a treatment for breast cancer. According to the lawsuits, Sanofi misled the public by falsely assuring them that hair would grow back after chemotherapy. Sanofi falsely assured patients that their hair would grow back.

In 2010, Sanofi-Aventis reported that Taxotere had been used worldwide to treat more than 1.5 million patients and annual sales of Taxotere were $3.1 billion.

According to a 2015 lawsuit filed by one of Sanofi’s former employees, the company engaged in illegal payment of kickbacks to health care professionals to prescribe the drug.

Also, in 2015, the FDA warned that there was a potential for permanent hair loss for users of Taxotere as cases of permanent alopecia had been reported, and required an update to the warning on Taxotere.

Despite informing patients in other countries, Sanofi for years did not warn women in the U.S. of this risk. The words “permanent hair loss” or “alopecia” did not appear in any information published in the U.S., lawsuits say.

Studies the company should have been aware of include:

  • Sanofi sponsored a study 1998 called GEICAM 9805. By 2005, the company knew that the results of this trial revealed 9.2 percent of women who used the chemo drug suffered permanent alopecia.
  • Dr. Scot Sedlacek of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers conducted a study in 2006 that revealed Taxotere could cause more than 6 percent of women to suffer permanent alopecia.
  • J. Lemieux et al. published a 2008 review of 38 articles analyzing the impact of hair loss on women with breast cancer. Results showed that “hair loss consistently ranked amongst the most troublesome side effects, was described as distressing, and may affect the body image.”

Going Forward

The next action in the federal MDL litigation is a general status conferences and show cause hearing on March 24, 2020. The second bellwether trial originally set for March 23 has been continued.

Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel are Dawn Barrios of Barrios, Kingsdorf & Casteix, LLP in New Orleans, and Palmer Lambert of Gainsburgh Benjamin David Meunier & Warshauer, LLC, also in New Orleans.

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