By: LISA R. WILSON

The Chinese companies whose tainted milk products were responsible for the deaths of six children and sickening nearly 300,000 others will pay close to $160 million (or $1 billion yuan) in compensation to victims' families, reporters announced Tuesday. Details of the order came after trials began for 15 people charged with the production and sale of melamine, an industrial chemical added to milk to boost protein readings in tests.

At least four of the suspects on trial could be given the death penalty, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Xinhua said verdicts would be announced on an unspecified date.

The four suspects face charges of endangering public safety by producing 200 tons of a mixture of melamine and malt dextrin (a food additive) that they marketed to milk producers, according to agency reports. Between November 2007 and August 2008, the suspects sold 110 tons to milk producers, including the primary company at the center of the investigation, Sanlu Group Co., for a total of $180,000.

Products liability refers to a manufacturer or seller being held liable for placing a defective product into the hands of a consumer. Products liability cases may include defective or poorly designed machinery, tools, motor vehicle defects, recreational products, pharmaceuticals and other defective products and equipment. To learn more, visit LawInfo’s legal resource center for articles and answers to frequently-asked product liability questions.