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Russian lawyers heralded the dawn of a western-style compensation culture yesterday after a woman who drank copious quantities of Coca Cola every day for five years successfully sued the company for giving her insomnia and heartburn.

Natalya Kashuba, the 27-year-old proprietor of an up-market clothes shop, took legal action against the soft drinks giant after claiming that she had fallen ill as a result of drinking up to three litres of coke a day.

"In October 2005, as a result of an examination by a gastroenterologist, she was diagnosed with a chronic condition whose main symptom is heart burn," her lawyer, Alexey Monakhov, said.

Miss Kashuba said she had become addicted to the drink as a result of a promotional offer that allowed consumers to swap Coca Cola caps for prizes.

Dozens of inflatable mattresses and radios she won were used as key evidence in the case.

In a landmark ruling, two Russian courts agreed that Coca Cola had failed to warn of the potential health risks of drinking too much Coke and awarded Miss Kashuba £62.

Though the sum in itself is derisory, Miss Kashuba's victory is unprecedented and could, lawyers predict, prompt an avalanche of similar suits.

Miss Kashuba herself is seeking a further pounds 59,000 from Coca Cola in "moral damages".

Similar cases in recent years have been less successful. Olga Kuznetsova, a Muscovite woman, failed in her attempt to sue McDonalds after she scalded herself with coffee when she walked into a revolving door.

Though she failed, Mrs Kuznetsova's suit - which was inspired by similar cases in the United States - marked the beginning of a new trend in consumer rights as legal firms specialising in helping disgruntled customers began to spring up.

"Russian consumers are becoming more aware of their rights and are now prepared to go to court to defend them," said Mr Monakhov, whose Federation for Legal Aid to Consumers is the first in Russia to operate on a No Win No Fee basis.

He predicts that the victory over Coca Cola will prompt "an imminent upsurge" in similar suits against foreign companies - lawyers have shown less interest in pursuing claims against Russian firms - but also believes that the ruling will have importance further afield. "

Multinational fast food companies have cause to be alarmed by the ruling, which could be used by to bolster a growing number of obesity related compensation claims in the West.
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