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SAN JOSE — The first in a series of cases filed on behalf of children who died or were paralyzed after choking on a kind of gel candy begins trial today in Santa Clara County Superior Court. San Mateo attorney Terry O’Reilly will be asking jurors to hold a Taiwanese candy manufacturer liable for the death of 12-year-old Michelle Enrile, who spent two years in a vegetative state after gagging on a thimble-shaped sweet. The Enrile family’s case is the first of five wrongful death or personal injury suits O’Reilly has filed against Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods Co. in California, New York and Canada. O’Reilly said three other defendants in Enrile v. Sheng Hsiang Foods Company, 784959 — including the retailer and distributor of the candy — have already settled with the family for about $8 million. Citing an FDA ban on the candy imposed in 2002, O’Reilly is asking Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Jamie Jacobs-May to instruct the jury that Sheng Hsiang failed to exercise “due care” in the manufacture of its Lychee Flavor Mini Gel Snack. In court papers, O’Reilly says the FDA repeatedly asked the company to stop selling the product voluntarily after news reports came out about suits alleging the gel candies caused children to choke. The FDA ban “may be sufficient for an entry of judgment,” said O’Reilly, of O’Reilly, Collins & Danko. “You don’t often have a federal agency ruling.” Sheng Hsiang’s attorney, Frank Revere of Los Angeles’ Revere & Wallace, did not return repeated calls. But in court papers, Revere, who joined the case in April, is seeking to prevent the plaintiffs from introducing what he called “junk science.” He also filed a motion to keep out a video of the victim in a vegetative state and any videos made the day of the choking that could “invoke the passion of the jury.” Revere also wants to keep out a video in which a scientist compares the properties of Jello and the candy’s sticky substance, konjac, also known as yam flour or glucomannan. “The test is not proper because Jello and konjac are not the same food,” Revere wrote. “Perhaps the tester could have tested the konjac candy against steel or a banana and would have gotten a different result.” O’Reilly, whose small firm is known for its plane crash cases, plans to call doctors and scientists to testify about the history of gel snacks. “The candy was introduced in Japan 20 years ago. It was hugely successful,” he said. But O’Reilly said Japanese authorities outlawed the candy in 1995, after it was linked to eight deaths and 80 injuries. After the Japanese ban, Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods started making the candy and selling it worldwide, according to O’Reilly. “The defendant in our case admitted they had read the Japanese report,” O’Reilly said. “They knew there were deaths. They conducted no research of their own.” O’Reilly said Sheng Hsiang did put a label on the candy, warning that children under the age of three should not consume the product. But O’Reilly said that wasn’t enough. “It’s sort of plug-shaped,” O’Reilly said of the candy. “It’s the worst possible shape for a child. This stuff is 8,000 times more sticky than Jello.”

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