Parents suing dairy firm in China

The parents of a 1-year-old boy who developed kidney stones after drinking infant formula tainted with an industrial chemical are suing the dairy at the heart of the scandal, state media reported, as tests implicated 15 more companies Wednesday.

The case is believed to be the first civil lawsuit filed in response to the contamination of milk, yogurt and other dairy products with melamine, which causes kidney stones and can lead to kidney failure. Nearly 54,000 children have been sickened and four infants have died.

According to the lawsuit, the boy was fed baby formula made by Sanlu Group Co. from the time of his birth, said the report by Caijing, a leading Chinese business magazine.

The child's parents, who come from central China's Henan province, filed a lawsuit in a court in Zhenping county seeking $22,000 in compensation from Sanlu for medical, travel and other expenses incurred after the child developed kidney stones, the magazine said.

The Zhenping court has yet to accept the case, said the report, which gave the parent's surname, Sun, but did not give their full names or that of their child.

The lawsuit comes amid increasing public awareness of an individual's legal rights in China. Some parents who lost their children when shoddily built schools collapsed in a massive earthquake in May reportedly tried to sue local governments, but were offered cash in return for signing pledges not to sue.

Jerome Cohen, a Chinese legal system expert and a professor at New York University School of Law, said it was surprising the couple was able to file a lawsuit.

“That itself is news,” Cohen said. “Lawyers are not being permitted generally to help people bring about such suits. Sometimes, though, the system is porous and they don't have uniform rules. Sometimes lawyers just take a chance.”