[JURIST] Lawyers for the families of 213 Chinese children sickened or killed by melamine-contaminated milk [JURIST news archive] petitioned the Supreme People's Court [official website, in Mandarin], China's highest court, to hear a class action lawsuit against 22 dairy companies involved in the contamination. The petition, mailed last Friday, seeks more than $5 million in compensation [Shanghai Daily report] from the companies, including individual amounts more than double those provided for in a government-sanctioned payout plan [JURIST report]. If accepted, the lawsuit would be the first time the court has heard a case related to the contamination, although lower courts have already dismissed [JURIST report] similar lawsuits, raising concerns that the Supreme People's Court will choose not to hear the case. Lawyers have proceeded with the lawsuit in the midst of pressure [JURIST report] to drop the suit against the dairies. The sentences for 21 defendants facing criminal charges related to the incident are expected to be announced [Xinhua report] on Thursday.
In late December, Chinese dairy company chairwoman Tian Wenhua pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges that she allowed her company to sell milk contaminated with the industrial chemical even after she knew of the contamination. One trial of four other suspects began last month, as did the trial of an additional six [JURIST reports]. News of possible milk powder contamination by the chemical melamine first broke in September [Guardian report], following the death of an infant and reports that at least 50 other infants had fallen ill after consuming baby formula, leading to massive recalls [BBC report] of both liquid milk products and milk powders. The Chinese Health Ministry has attributed the deaths of six children to the contamination, and at least 294,000 other children have been affected.