The Christian Science Monitor published an interesting article on September 22 exploring the reasons why the scandal involving melanine-tainted milk that has killed at least four children and sickened tens of thousands more in China has not resulted in the flood of litigation that the incident would have caused in the United States.
The article discusses several reasons why Chinese consumers have been slow to resort to the courts for redress, including that a government promise to provide free health health care for those affected, a societal predisposition to rely on government redress rather than the courts, the historical inability to collect damages for pain and suffering, and efforts by various parts of the government to prevent access to the courts, especially in politically sensitive cases. While the article notes that the legal climate in China may be changing, pointing to an award of small amounts of noneconomic damages for “moral and spiritual suffering” awards in a recent case against another milk manufacturer, it quotes a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer as predicting that the current system of government compensation will last “for quite a while.”
Other commentators have pointed to the availability of compensation through government programs as a factor in why U.S.-style class action litigation has not yet become prevalent in Europe. (See this previous ClassActionBlawg article). Adding to this government safety net a totalitarian government intent on avoiding the perceived social instability that would come from having private injuries redressed through the courts seems to assure that U.S.-style class action and mass tort litigation is a long way away in China.