BEIJING (AP) -- A court in northern China has accepted a compensation suit against the dairy firm at the heart of China's tainted milk scandal, the first court to do so, a lawyer representing the plaintiff said Wednesday.
Lawyer Peng Jian said Shijiazhuang's Xinhua District Court told him on Monday to pay a standard filing fee, indicating the court was proceeding to the next step: deciding whether to open a trial. Such decisions usually take about one month, Peng said.
"This is the first time a court has accepted a lawsuit (in the scandal), so we applaud the decision," Peng said. "This suit was filed in accordance with international standards."
Peng said his clients are the Beijing parents of a child who was one of thousands sickened by milk deliberately contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine.
Peng said the family was asking for 31,000 yuan ($4,538) in compensatory damages from the now-defunct Sanlu Group, which was based in Shijiazhuang. Peng said the victim, an 11-month-old girl, had become ill after drinking Sanlu's infant formula.
"As long as we can prove that the children drank Sanlu's products, then there is no question we will win. The only question really is how much compensation will be awarded," Peng told The Associated Press by telephone.
Peng said that previously cases against Sanlu had been handled at the administrative level rather than through the legal system, with the apparent intention of resolving them through mediation.
Peng said he had filed six separate cases with the Shijiazhuang court, but that the case accepted this week had asked for the lowest amount of compensation.
He said the infant's relatively mild illness justified a lower amount. Another family he was representing from the central province of Henan whose child had died was asking for 300,000 yuan ($44,000) in compensation.
Associated Press researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this story.