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China court hears first tainted milk civil lawsuit

[JURIST] A Beijing court on Friday began hearing the first civil lawsuit by a family of an infant sickened during last year's melamine-tainted milk scandal [JURIST news archive]. Ma Xuexin brought suit against the bankrupt dairy company Sanlu and a Beijing supermarket that sold the contaminated milk, seeking damages for his son's medical expenses that are not covered [China Daily report] under the government's victim fund [JURIST report]. The hearing, which ended without a verdict, is one of only six milk scandal civil suits [AP report] accepted by Chinese courts. Judge Zhang Nan requested more evidence for the trial, which will resume on December 9. According to Beijing lawyer Xu Zhiyong, many of the affected families filed individual civil lawsuits [BBC report] after the Hebei Supreme Court rejected a class action suit [JURIST report] filed last year against the Sanlu dairy company by the families of children who died or were harmed by the tainted milk.

In January, lawyers for the victims' families petitioned [JURIST report] the Supreme People's Court [official website, in Chinese], China's highest court, to hear a class action lawsuit against 22 dairy companies involved in the contamination. The petition seeks more than $5 million in compensation [Shanghai Daily report] from the companies, including individual amounts more than double those provided for in the government fund. It is still unclear whether the court will accept the case. Currently, 21 people have been sentenced [Times report] in connection with the scandal, including two men executed last week [JURIST report] and the former Sanlu chairwoman, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and has since appealed [JURIST report].

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