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Chinese Lawyers Pressured to Spill Tainted Milk Cases

Call it a primitive version of tort reform: The Chinese government is pressuring lawyers advising on possible lawsuits against companies responsible for melamine-tainted milk products that have sickened tens of thousands of infants to cease those activities, reports MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal. As the government has started to disclose the full extent of the tainted milk scandal, Chinese lawyers have set up groups to advise victims on options for seeking compensation, including lawsuits against the Sanlu Group, a Chinese dairy company that produced the milk powder regarded as the cause of many of the illnesses.  But now some of these lawyers, such as Change Boyang who practices in central China where many children are sick, are backing off, citing heavy pressure from local judicial authorities. Li Fangping, a Beijing-based lawyer who has consulted with some families told the Wall Street Journal that "I heard many lawyers have faced this pressure to abandon their efforts." At this point, Fangping, who was quoted last week in the Christian Science Monitor, is willing to forestall any legal action if the government makes good on its pledge to compensate victims for all medical costs associated with treatment.

The Chinese government is asking victims to trust that the government will resolve the matter, and has suggested that involvement of lawyers will interfere with efforts to resolve the tainted milk crisis.  However, for tort lawyer Bill Marler, who specializes in foodborne illness cases, limiting access to legal advice is part of the cause of the tainted milk scandal, not the solution:

free press and the right to legal advice is a must to keep corporations like Sanlu Fonterra and the Chinese Government honest.  Frankly, that is true whatever country you are in.  The world's media and legal associations, especially in the US, need to speak out in support of our chinese collegues.  Until there is a free press and a functioning legal system in China, expect to see more outbreaks, illnesses and cover-ups.

And in the Christian Science Monitor, Dan Harris of the China Law Blog seems to agree: "Damages are so low in China that companies can get away with it...Why bother to recall if only 20 people are going to sue you and win $20,000 each?"

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 29, 2008 at 08:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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