03/04/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Chinese judges “to accept” applications for compensation in melamine-tainted milk scandal

So far courts have ruled requests “inadmissible”. But greater willingness by the courts comes after 95 per cent of victims’ families settled for dairy producers’ modest compensation offers. Concern is now growing that judges will simply order compensation equal to the amounts so far offered by companies.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese courts will “accept lawsuits for compensation” in the tainted milk scandal, said Shen Deyong, executive vice president of the Supreme People's Court, during a live webcast on the People’s Daily website on Monday.

Milk containing melamine, a substance poisonous for humans, killed at least six infants and sickened nearly 300,000 with kidney stones and kidney failure.

So far courts have not been generous with demands for compensation.

More than 95 per cent of victims' families have ended up accepting financial compensation from dairy producers, however inadequate it might be.

But a small number of families have resisted and turned to the courts.

Others, failing to sway the courts, petitioned the central government in Beijing.

Zhao Lianhai, one of the affected parents, set up a website to inform families and get them connected to one another.

He told the South China Morning Post that the Ministry of Health sent him a letter, in “response to petitions submitted by many families,” saying that if victims of tainted milk powder “didn't accept compensation offers from the dairy firms, they could apply through the courts for compensation.”

A court in Shijiazhuang invited lawyers representing 337 victims “to discuss lawsuits and witness the Sanlu Group” during a meeting “to be held in the city".

Sanlu is the main of 22 dairy firms involved in the scandal

In “the past we submitted documents twice and they always said they didn't receive our application,” said Beijing legal academic Xu Zhiyong.

Questions remain however as to how the courts will run the process.

The Qingdao Intermediate People's Court in northern China was the first to accept a compensation case, with families of 54 children filing a lawsuit on Monday for 8 million yuan, Beijing attorney Li Jinglin said.

Instead a court official said: “We are prepared to give the same amount of compensation as the dairies.”

Dairy producers have offered 200,000 yuan to families who lost children; 30,000 yuan to families whose children suffered serious cases of kidney stones; and 2,000 yuan in less severe cases.

Such amounts have proven inadequate to pay for current treatment, let alone for any long term effects melamine might have on kidneys.

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