For anybody who’s received a cancer diagnosis, their first thoughts are usually about their chances for survival. But for many, not far off that is thinking about what their body is about to go through if they are considering being treated for their cancer.
That’s because for most types of cancer, one of the most prescribed treatments includes taking chemotherapy drugs, which typically come with one very obvious side effect among others — hair loss.
Not everyone who takes chemo drugs will lose their hair, but estimates peg the likelihood at about 65%. The loss of their hair can be a terribly traumatic experience for cancer patients, who already are experiencing the emotional turmoil that comes with their diagnosis.
Most people assume the hair loss caused by their cancer drugs will be temporary, but for some their hair never fully grows back. Many women who were prescribed Taxotere, a brand name for docetaxel, to treat breast cancer experienced permanent hair loss (or alopecia). More than 11,000 lawsuits have been filed against the makers of the drug as a result.
Learn more about the drug and its history and find out what you need to know to determine if filing or joining a Taxotere lawsuit is right for you.
- What Is Taxotere?
- Taxotere Lawsuits
- What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Taxotere?
- How Do I Know if I Qualify to Be Part of a Taxotere Lawsuit?
- How Does the Taxotere Lawsuit Work?
- Do I Need a Lawyer to Join a Taxotere Lawsuit?
- How Long Does It Take to Settle a Taxotere Lawsuit?
- What Is the Statute of Limitations on Taxotere Lawsuits?
- How Much Can You Get From a Taxotere Lawsuit?
- How Long Does It Take to Get Your Money After You Settle a Taxotere Lawsuit?
What Is Taxotere?
The injectable medication can be used on its own, though it’s also often paired with other medications. Usually, Taxotere is the drug of last resort when other medications have failed to stop the spread of cancer.
History of Taxotere
Docetaxel was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996 to treat breast cancer after previous chemotherapy treatments had failed. Docetaxel is sold by Sanofi-Aventis under the brand name Taxotere. Sun Pharma Global also sells the drug under the brand name Docefrez.
Sanofi-Aventis reported $204 million in net sales of Taxotere in 2019, accounting for about 10% of the company’s oncology drug profits.
All cancer medications work by attacking cancer cells in the body, but the mechanisms are each a little different. In the case of Taxotere, the drug damages and stiffens the structure of cancer cells, preventing them from growing further.
Uses of Taxotere
Taxotere and other versions of docetaxel have been approved to treat the following types of cancer:
- Non-small cell lung
- Head and neck
Doses vary by country, but the medication is always administered by injection. Most patients receive an injection about every three weeks, depending on their doctor’s recommendations.
Taxotere Side Effects
The side effect of permanent hair loss is a controversial one, given that it’s at the heart of the thousands of lawsuits pending that accuse drug makers of marketing a harmful medication. But there are several other side effects that are commonly accepted to occur in varying degrees, including:
Low Blood Cell Count
Taxotere and other cancer medications usually cause a drop in the number of white blood cells in the body, which can make the body more susceptible to infection.
Some Taxotere patients will experience a warm sensation, itching or tightness either during or right after they receive their injection. In many cases, patients experience this reaction while they are still in the hospital or treatment facility and can notify a nurse or doctor as it’s happening.
For most cancer patients, fluid retention is common, though it usually does not become noticeable until people are several weeks into their treatment regimen.
Nausea and Diarrhea
Gastrointestinal problems like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are common with Taxotere, and in some cases, they can be severe.
About 10% of Taxotere patients experience fatigue after their treatments, though these feelings usually go away within a week of their dose.
Pain in muscles and joints is among the most commonly known and accepted side effects of Taxotere, affecting about 20% of people.
A blotchy skin reaction that appears similar to hives is known to happen to about 5% of patients, usually occurring on the hands and feet but sometimes showing up on the arms, face, or body. It most often appears between treatments and goes away before the next treatment.
Sensations in Hands and Feet
Weakness, tingling, numbness, and burning in the hands is also common with Taxotere, being reported by about 14% of people who were administered Taxotere.
Nail and Eye Changes
Changes to the coloring of fingernails and toenails and excessive tear production also have been reported with Taxotere.
According to the FDA’s documentation related to Taxotere, most people who take Taxotere lose the hair on their heads and bodies, starting after the first few times they get the drug.
A 2018 study published in the medical journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment indicated that about 10% of breast cancer patients who took Taxotere had such persistent alopecia that they had to wear a wig permanently.
But the study also found that people who had lower cumulative doses of Taxotere were less likely to experience permanent hair loss, but that a range of 33-52% of patients who had higher cumulative doses had at least mild persistent alopecia.
Remember that Taxotere is considered a “last resort” medication, meaning it’s typically given to breast cancer patients only when other chemotherapy medications have failed. So for those who are most in need of being successfully treated by Taxotere are the ones most likely to experience this permanent, traumatic side effect, according to the 2018 study.
At the heart of the thousands of Taxotere lawsuits that have been filed so far is the labeling and marketing of the product, as plaintiffs have accused Sanofi-Aventis of failing to warn patients about the risk of permanent hair loss.
As mentioned previously, oncologists are still prescribing Taxotere despite the risk of permanent hair loss. In fact, net sales of the drug increased by 3% between 2018 and 2019, rising about 11% in the final quarter of 2019 compared to the same time the previous year.
Beginning in 2006, the FDA required Taxotere to carry a so-called black box warning, which is the strongest type of labeling a medication can carry. The label warned consumers of the risk of kidney damage, toxicity, allergic reactions, and fluid retention.
A 2015 update to the product added this warning to the packaging: “Cases of permanent alopecia have been reported,” and in 2020, a judge dismissed about 200 cases on the basis that this phrase or similar wording is listed in multiple locations in the literature that’s included with the medication.
So far, more than 12,500 lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. against Sanofi-Aventis, and the claims have been condensed into one multijurisdictional litigation, or MDL, centralized in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Through this process, several smaller groups of cases, bellwethers, will proceed through the court system.
The outcomes of these cases won’t necessarily have a bearing on current or future cases, but in past cases of product liability, many companies will see consecutive losses at trial as a signal that they should consider settling all lawsuits through one mass settlement.
So far, only one cases has made it all the way through the system. Louisiana resident and breast cancer patient Barbara Earnest’s assertion that taking Taxotere caused her to permanently lose her hair was ultimately rejected by a federal jury in the Louisiana MDL, and while Earnest appealed, the jury’s decision ultimately was affirmed. But several more cases are expected to get underway in 2020 and 2021.
Earnest said the drug caused the hair on her head, eyebrows, eyelashes, and other areas to fall out permanently, and her lawsuit alleged that Sanofi-Aventis intentionally withheld results of a study that said nearly 10% of Taxotere patients experienced persistent hair loss.
With 200 cases dismissed over the update to Taxotere’s labeling, it’s unclear if that decision will have any impact on the cases that are currently pending, but in many cases, plaintiffs are alleging that Sanofi-Aventis knew of the risks of permanent hair loss as early as 2007, while some have claimed that the company engaged in a deceptive marketing scheme to entice doctors to prescribe Taxotere.
As we mentioned, the outcome of cases that are currently part of the MDL based in Louisiana may or may not have any bearing on future cases. In any event, individuals who have experienced permanent hair loss as a result of using Taxotere may still pursue justice.
Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer that affects women in the U.S., and it’s been estimated that all things being equal, the average risk of developing breast cancer at some point in a woman’s life is about 13%.
Awareness of breast cancer and the prevalence of preventive methods like mammogram and self-breast exams have risen, and diagnosis rates of breast cancer have gone up. Today, there are more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S., including some who are still undergoing treatment.
Most of these women are not taking Taxotere to treat their cancer since this drug is typically given only when other types of chemo have not been successful. That means the people for whom this drug is typically prescribed are those who have a grimmer prognosis than others and who may be more desperate in searching for a successful treatment to save their lives.
It’s also important to remember that permanent hair loss is not the only potential side effect of Taxotere, and if you or a loved one have been harmed by some of the other side effects of the drug, it may be in your best interest to consult with an attorney.
Statute of Limitations
In every state, lawmakers have enacted legislation that limits the amount of time people have to file lawsuits over defective products, including medications like Taxotere. Plaintiffs who file their cases after the statutory time limit will probably have their claims thrown out by a judge.
Patients or loved ones of people who took Taxotere and suffered serious side effects, including permanent hair loss, have a limited amount of time to seek justice for their loss. That’s why it’s important to consult with a qualified local attorney who can help you understand all the legal details surrounding your case.
The fact that some cases already have proceeded to trial while others have been dismissed does not diminish your ability to file a claim over Taxotere, but the longer the series of trials over Taxotere drag on, the more time runs off the statute of limitations clock.
Remember that in 2020 200 cases were dismissed because a judge agreed that the change to Taxotere’s black box warning should have been sufficient to inform patients of the possibility of permanent hair loss. So those who began taking Taxotere after that time may have a more difficult path ahead of them.
Still, permanent alopecia can have serious psychological and real-world implications, and many people who took Taxotere and never saw their hair grow back have experienced things like anxiety and depression as well as reduced career earnings because of their appearance. According to one study, almost two-thirds of women with alopecia (including all causes) have career problems, while 40% have marital troubles.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Taxotere?
If you are a current cancer patient who is taking Taxotere and experiencing negative side effects, speak with your doctor right away. The side effects of this medication, including the risk of permanent hair loss, can be quite serious. This could include sepsis, which can be fatal, liver damage, low white blood cell counts, fluid retention, and allergic reactions.
However, you should not skip your chemo appointment if you have one upcoming. If you’re having bad or new side effects from the drug, speak with your doctor right away so that together you can develop a plan. That may include continuing to take Taxotere while your doctor investigates an alternative treatment option or reduced dose.
People who have completed their chemotherapy with Taxotere and have experienced permanent hair loss or other persistent negative symptoms should first consult with their doctor to verify that the drug is the cause of their continued symptoms. It may also be possible for their doctor to provide medications or other treatments to help alleviate their acute symptoms.
Those who took Taxotere and experienced permanent problems, including alopecia, may consider filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer, Sanofi-Aventis. So far, no settlement has been agreed to in this case, so the only way to seek compensation for your Taxotere-related losses is to file a lawsuit.
The best way to determine if you have a strong case against Sanofi and Taxotere is to consult with a qualified local attorney who can review and discuss your case and help you decide the best path forward.
How Do I Know if I Qualify to Be Part of a Taxotere Lawsuit?
Anybody who took Taxotere to treat cancer, including breast cancer, gastric cancer, prostate cancer, and other types of the disease, and experienced lingering side effects, especially permanent hair loss, may qualify to be part of a Taxotere lawsuit.
Allegations against Sanofi and their drug have said that the company knew for many years that the drug could cause permanent alopecia but did not adequately warn patients or physicians about these risks.
So if you experienced permanent hair loss or other long-lasting damage because of Taxotere, you could be eligible to receive compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, cosmetic expenses such as wigs or hairdressers, pain and suffering, decreased earning potential, and more.
It’s true that the company updated its FDA-mandated product label to add references to the risk of permanent hair loss, and in 2020, several pending cases were dismissed because of this. So if you began taking Taxotere after 2015 (or when the label became available in your area), it may be more difficult for you to seek justice. But it’s not impossible, and an attorney who is experienced in these cases can help you proceed in the best possible way.
Currently, more than 11,000 lawsuits over Taxotere are pending, but no settlement offers have been made or accepted. So seeking justice for now means filing a lawsuit.
How Does the Taxotere Lawsuit Work?
Just as every person is unique, every possible lawsuit against Sanofi and Taxotere is different. That said, in most cases, plaintiffs have accused Sanofi of several serious breaches of public trust, including:
- Fraudulent marketing
- Product design and manufacturing defects
- Failure to warn
- Violation of consumer rights
- Intentional infliction of emotional harm
Thousands of cases are currently pending against Sanofi-Aventis, and they’ve been centralized in the Eastern District of Louisiana as a multijurisdictional litigation, or MDL. This is different from a class action because each trial will still proceed on its own merits (if it proceeds to trial), but certain cases will go first, serving as so-called bellwethers in the case.
This helps all parties involved determine the strengths and weaknesses of their cases, and this process often leads to more efficient adjudication of cases by coordinating proceedings. In many product liability cases, the bellwether process for MDLs has helped put pressure on defendants. If several trials proceed to jury verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs, Sanofi may issue a blanket settlement that will make it easier to receive compensation over Taxotere.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Join a Taxotere Lawsuit?
At this time, there has been no settlement by Sanofi-Aventis, the company that makes Taxotere. What that means is that the only way to seek justice, at least for now, is to consult with an attorney and file a lawsuit.
In cases of mass settlements or trusts, it’s often possible to file a claim for compensation without the help of an attorney. Since no settlement exists yet in this case, and, indeed, the only case to go to trial so far ended with a decision in Sanofi’s favor, filing a separate lawsuit is the only option for being compensated.
Even if it weren’t the only possibility, seeking the advice of an attorney is a smart move. That’s because the intricacies of product liability laws and statutes of limitation make a case against Sanofi far from one that’s cut-and-dry.
How Long Does It Take to Settle a Taxotere Lawsuit?
So far, no Taxotere lawsuits that have been filed against Sanofi or any related companies has ended in a settlement, so only time will tell when or even if Sanofi will agree or be made to settle any of the thousands of claims against it over Taxotere.
In general, getting a company to agree to a settlement is a long and difficult process. Corporations, particularly ones with deep pockets like pharmaceutical giants, have a clear financial incentive to avoid settlements and accept any blame when their products harm people.
Every case is different, but it’s not uncommon to wait as many as three years to receive a settlement offer in the case of a lawsuit over a drug like Taxotere. Depending on the outcome of the cases currently in the works, this could come more rapidly, however.
What Is the Statute of Limitations on Taxotere Lawsuits?
Most states allow people to file lawsuits over defective products, such as medications like Taxotere, no more than three years after the fact. What that means is that there is no single length of time that you might have to file a lawsuit, and it will depend on things like where you live, when you took Taxotere, how long ago you stopped, and other matters.
What claims you’re making against Sanofi and other companies also factor in. That’s because many plaintiffs are alleging that Sanofi knew of the risk of permanent alopecia but failed to notify the public, but in 2015, the FDA-mandated warning on Taxotere’s labeling was changed to include more clear references to permanent hair loss.
How Much Can You Get From a Taxotere Lawsuit?
So far, no plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits against Sanofi and other companies over Taxotere and related drugs have received a judgment in their favor. In fact, the only case to proceed through the trial process as of September 2020 ended in a decision in favor of Sanofi-Aventis.
That said, product liability lawsuits have resulted in some of the biggest jury verdicts and settlements in legal history. The most notable and historic of these are the tobacco settlements of the late 1990s in which major tobacco companies agreed to pay at least $206 billion to users of their products and survivors of those who died from smoking cigarettes or using tobacco.
In other product liability cases that have proceeded to trial, plaintiffs have received eye-popping jury verdicts. For example, a California man who sued Monsanto over the weed killer Roundup received a jury verdict in the amount of $289 million, though that amount was reduced a couple of times.
How Long Does It Take to Get Your Money After You Settle a Taxotere Lawsuit?
No settlement has been agreed to yet in the Taxotere lawsuits, but it can be instructive to consider other cases that have been settled. The key difference in a settlement and a lawsuit that ends in a judge’s award is that the defendant won’t be appealing the settlement. Once it’s finalized, that means the parties agree on it, and it would take further court proceedings to alter the settlement.
Typically, settlement agreements will spell out the schedule that determines when you’ll receive your money. Plaintiffs may agree to a settlement that spreads their payment out over a longer length of time, while others may prefer to seek immediate restitution.