March 25, 2009 / 3:08 PM / 10 years ago

China court accepts first tainted milk lawsuit

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court has for the first time agreed to hear a lawsuit from a family seeking compensation for a child poisoned by drinking tainted milk last year, the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

Employees remove contaminated milk formula products from the shelves of a supermarket in Hefei, Anhui province September 16, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

The court that took the case is in the northern city of Shijiazhuang, the center of the scandal that killed at least six children, made tens of thousands sick and battered confidence in the “Made in China” brand around the world.

China’s judges come under the control of the ruling Communist Party and often avoid taking up contentious complaints about politically sensitive issues.

China’s supreme court said earlier this year that it would allow lower courts to accept such cases. But after lawyers trying to organize mass lawsuits over the milk scandal were harassed or ignored, it was not clear if any cases would go ahead.

But an unnamed parent from Beijing had successfully filed one at the Xinhua District Court in Shijiazhuang, the report quoted local judicial spokesman Wang Wei as saying.

The parent was seeking 31,000 yuan ($4,538) in damages from the Sanlu Group, the now bankrupt firm at the heart of the scandal, the report quoted the family’s lawyer, Peng Jian, as saying. The report gave no details on the child’s injuries.

Nearly 300,000 children nationwide were made ill by formula and milk products adulterated with melamine, an industrial chemical with a high nitrogen content that helped watered-down milk pass checks on protein content.

More than 90 percent of the affected families took a state-backed compensation deal, which curtails their right to sue the 22 manufacturers found culpable.

But many parents have complained payments are too low and do not take into account long-term health risks. Others say doctors have underestimated the damage to their children.

Two men were sentenced to death in January for trading in melamine put in milk.

Tian Wenhua, the former general manager of Sanlu Dairy, was sentenced to life in prison for her role in the scandal.

Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison, Editing by Dean Yates

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