Chinese families to sue dairies over tainted milk

Lawyers for more than 200 families who say their children were sickened or died after drinking tainted infant formula said on Monday they were turning to China’s highest court to sue the dairy companies responsible in an effort to receive higher compensation and lifelong treatment.

Beijing attorney Xu Zhiyong said the lawyers mailed an application on Friday to the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing to sue the 22 dairies that were found selling milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine.

The lawyers’ previous applications to sue a dairy company in lower courts in China have been ignored, he said.

Xu said the 213 families were rejecting a payment scheme announced last month by the dairies because they wanted the firms to provide more compensation and to pay for medical expenses incurred from tainted milk-related problems for the rest of the victims’ lives.

“The compensation being offered is just too little,” Xu said in a phone interview. “The parents are also not happy about the plan to give free medical care only till 18 years of age.”

Across China, at least six babies have died and nearly 300 000 children have been sickened by milk contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics that is banned in food products.

Investigations found that suppliers had added melamine, which like protein is rich in nitrogen, to watered-down milk to fool quality tests for protein content.

The dairies involved have proposed a compensation plan that would give families whose children died 200 000 yuan ($29 000), while others would receive 30 000 yuan ($4 380) for serious cases of kidney stones and 2 000 yuan ($290) for less severe cases.

Another 200-million yuan ($29-million) would go to a fund to cover bills for lingering health problems and medical costs related to tainted milk until victims turn 18.

Xu said the lawsuit seeks 36-million yuan ($5,3-million) in total compensation—314 000 yuan ($46 000) to families whose babies died or were seriously sickened, 24 000 yuan for hospitalised but less serious cases and 12 000 yuan for those who received outpatient treatment.

He said the suit was being filed in the Supreme People’s Court because the scandal has had a nationwide impact.

The lawyers’ group has not been notified if the application has been received. Phone calls to the inquiry office of the Supreme People’s Court rang unanswered on Monday.

On Friday state media reported that more than 3 000 families in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, where a dairy at the centre of the scandal is based, had accepted the government’s compensation package.
- Sapa-AP

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