Chinese Court Accepts First Civil Suit in Milk Scandal

By Wang Biqiang, Xie Liangbing
Published: 2009-03-26

A local Chinese court has decided to hear a lawsuit against Chinese dairy firm Sanlu, filed by a family affected by the tainted milk scandal that erupted last September, the Economic Observer learned.

This was the first such lawsuit to be heard on the issue, and was complicated by the bankrupt status of Sanlu.

Previously, local courts had refused to accept such lawsuits. But in early March, a judge from China's Supreme Court announced that the court system was prepared to accept such cases.

ix infants died and some 290,000 fell ill after consuming baby formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. See an EO timeline.

Peng Jian, the attorney whose lawsuit was accepted, told the EO that on March 25, Xinhua District Court in Hebei province issued a notice to inform him they would accept his compensation plea on behalf of a Beijing victim surnamed Li, whose child fell ill after drinking the tainted baby formula.

Li was suing for 31,000 yuan in compensation, including 20,000 yuan for mental suffering.

The court would hear the case within one month, in accordance with China's Civil Action Law, said Peng, who was also advising other families.

The other five victims' suits had yet to be accepted by the court because they could not afford the court fees, said Peng, adding he was applying for an extension to their payment deadline.

In late February, the government ordered all involved dairy producers to set up a compensation fund for victims. Parents of infants who died as a result of consuming tainted milk would receive 200,000 yuan; parents whose infants fell seriously ill could receive 30,000 yuan; and parents of children who fell moderately ill would receive 2,000 yuan.

Many parents, especially those whose infants developed minor illness, were not satisfied with the compensation scheme. They struggled for months to sue for more compensation, which they said was needed to cover future medical monitoring of their childrens' health.

There were criminal cases stemming from the scandal as well. The Hebei provincial government on March 26 penalized 14 high-level officials and sacked Ji Chuntang, mayer of Shijiazhuang city, home of Sanlu.

Sanlu's chairwoman Tian Wenhua was jailed for life, and two people were sentenced to death in January for knowingly producing or selling milk adulterated with melamine.