Parents File Suit Against Chinese Dairy

The parents of a baby allegedly sickened in China's tainted milk crisis are suing one of the country's biggest dairies in the first known lawsuit stemming from the scandal.

BEIJING (AP) -- The parents of a baby allegedly sickened in China's tainted milk crisis are suing one of the country's biggest dairies in the first known lawsuit stemming from the scandal, a lawyer said Thursday.

Although product liability lawsuits have become more common in recent years, the lawyer, Ji Cheng, said he would not know until next week if the court in Henan province would take the case.

"The court will make the decision whether to accept this case after the National Day holiday," Ji said told The Associated Press. China is marking its founding with a weeklong holiday, and government agencies are closed.

The hospitalized 14-month-old from central China's Henan province was fed infant formula made by Sanlu Group Co. from birth, according to a report by Caijing, a leading Chinese business magazine.

Lawyers said they had not heard of any other civil lawsuits being filed in response to the melamine contamination of liquid milk, yogurt and other products made with milk. Four infants have died and more than 50,000 have become ill after drinking the contaminated formula, which has been linked to kidney stones.

The lawsuit comes amid increasing public awareness of an individual's legal rights in China. Some parents who lost their children when shoddily built schools collapsed in a massive earthquake in May reportedly tried to sue local governments, but were offered cash in return for signing pledges not to pursue legal action.

Ji said one of the sick child's parents filed a lawsuit in a court in Zhenping county seeking US$22,000 (150,000 yuan) in compensation from Sanlu for medical, travel and other expenses incurred after the child developed kidney stones. The amount could go up because the child is still being treated.

China's State Council, the Cabinet, has ordered hospitals to provide free treatment for sick infants, but the baby is at Beijing Children's Hospital, which will only offer free treatment to children diagnosed ill after Sept. 12, when the scandal broke, Caijing magazine said.

One lawyer suggested his profession was under pressure to not accept lawsuits connected with the scandal.

"About one week ago, the Beijing Judicial Bureau asked Beijing lawyers to attend a meeting and requested them not to accept problematic milk powder-related cases," said Zhou Shifeng, who was out of town and did not attend the meeting.

Other Beijing lawyers told The AP they had not come under any pressure to reject such cases.

On Wednesday, China said 15 more companies were accused of selling compromised products found to be contaminated with melamine after a new series of tests. The tainted samples were mostly milk powder products for adults.

Thirty-one samples of Chinese milk powder provided by 20 companies were found tainted with melamine after new testing, according to data seen Wednesday on China's food safety administration's Web site. Five of those companies had already been fingered in the scandal. Product safety officials could not be reached for comment.

The scandal has sparked global concern about Chinese food imports and recalls in several countries of Chinese-made products including milk powders, biscuits and candies such as the widely sold White Rabbit sweets, which have been pulled from shelves in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Officials in the United States on Wednesday reported finding tainted White Rabbit candies for sale at Asian food markets in the state of New Jersey, after finding them earlier in California and Hawaii. Officials in Germany said they had discovered them for sale in the southern state of Baden Wuerttemburg.

The Shanghai-based maker of the candy, Guan Sheng Yuan Co., said last week it was halting production of the sticky, taffy-like confection, an iconic brand beloved by generations of Chinese.

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