Chinese lawyers have decided to pursue a collective action against the government-owned manufacturer of milk that sickened tens of thousands of people earlier this fall. As discussed in this October 1, 2008 ClassActionBlawg entry, victims and their lawyers were slow to turn to the courts for redress due at least in part to pressure from government officials that pursue redress through a promised government compensation program for victims rather than seeking a private remedy in the courts. However, according to an AP article published today, lawyers representing a group of 100 families of alleged victims of the contamination have filed a lawsuit seeking damages for medical expenses, “trauma,” and compensation for the loss of family members who died.
According the AP article,
Chinese civil law says a collective lawsuit may be filed when there are at least two plaintiffs with a common complaint against the same defendant. Such lawsuits differ from U.S. class-action suits in that Chinese courts require the express consent of each plaintiff.
Therefore, to call the case a “class action” would be a bit of a misnomer. The Chinese procedure appears to be more similar to a “mass action,” similar to many asbestos, pharmaceutical, and toxic tort cases filed in the U.S.
The article raises doubts whether the court will allow the plaintiffs to proceed as a group, noting that courts often decline to allow group actions and instead require that the cases be decided individually in order “to look more productive and avoid running afoul of Communist Party officials, who ultimately control the judiciary.”
Thanks to JURIST’s Paper Chase news service for tipping me off to the article.