Customer wins damages claim against Avon
Mark O'Neill in Shanghai
US giant is ordered to pay a woman whose face was disfigured by its products
In an example of the increasingly litigious business climate in China, a court has ordered United States cosmetics giant Avon to pay more than 180,000 yuan to a customer who said her face had been disfigured by its products.
An Avon spokeswoman said the firm respected the court's judgment but reserved the right to appeal, adding that there was no problem with product quality.
As China passes more laws and the media give wider coverage to consumer rights, so an increasing number of ordinary people are suing companies for defects in their products. Some win substantial damages, doing great harm to the product brands.
The judgment, handed down on April 25 by the Middle Court of Yangquan, Shanxi province, was the result of a bitter two-year battle between the cosmetics firm and Gao Ge, who says the damage done to her face caused her to lose her fiance and seriously affect a promising career as a lawyer.
On one occasion, Ms Gao threatened to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of Avon's headquarters in Guangzhou.
The case stemmed from her purchase of Avon products at one of its 5,000 franchise stores in China, in her hometown of Yangquan on March 15, 2002. She returned to the store on March 25, bought more goods and had a session of skin treatment with the store manager.
After the treatment, her face went red and she had a temperature. In succeeding days, her face swelled up, with red and black rashes. She said she had had beauty treatment for many years but never such a result.
Her life and character was transformed by a sense of ugliness. She became isolated and irritable, arguing even with her mother and unwilling to appear in public except with a scarf covering her face. She entrusted many of her cases to other lawyers. One year later, her fiance of four years left her.
In the summer of 2002, she submitted a report to Avon, demanding 13,714 yuan in compensation for the loss of two months' salary and 20,000 yuan for psychological damages and transport and medical fees.
Avon agreed to repay her the value of its products she had bought and a 'reasonable' sum towards medical and transport costs and loss of job earnings but refused the demand for psychological damages, saying there was no legal basis for this.
Ms Gao took her case to the consumer association of Yangquan which tried twice to mediate but in vain as the sides could not agree on the issue of psychological damage.
Avon invited her to its China headquarters for negotiations and hospital treatment at its expense. The hospital judged that it was impossible to say if the Avon products were the cause of her facial problem.
After the failure of talks, she took the case to a district court in Yangquan, demanding 530,000 yuan in compensation. After a hearing on March 28 last year, the court issued its decision on October 8, awarding her 53,352.13 yuan, including 15,000 yuan in psychological damages. Ms Gao appealed and on April 25 the Middle Court of Yangquan increased the amount to 181,269.83 yuan, including 50,000 yuan in psychological damages.
The Avon spokeswoman insisted there was no problem of quality with its products.
'Each customer has different skin. In future, we will increase the market education of how to use our products.'