August 4, 2011 / 9:15 PM / in 8 years

Lawsuit names drug company, hospital over suspected murder case

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Relatives of a man whose chemist wife is accused of poisoning him with thallium have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company where she worked and the hospital where he died.

Xiaoye Wang, 39, a computer engineer also known as Alex Wang, died on January 26 at University Medical Center of Princeton, New Jersey. He had been admitted on January 14 complaining of abdominal pain and a lack of feeling in his hands or feet.

His wife, Tianle “Heidi” Li, 40, a chemist at Bristol Myers Squibb, was charged with murder for allegedly slipping him thallium, an odorless, highly toxic metal, both at their home and as he lay in his hospital bed.

The couple lived in Monroe Township, New Jersey, with their 2-year-old son.

A wrongful death suit filed by relatives of Wang in New Jersey’s Camden County Superior Court on Thursday names the drug company, the hospital and six doctors.

“A talented software engineer and a loving father of a toddler would be alive today if only one of the world’s biggest drug makers, and an accredited medical center, had just done their jobs,” said Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia lawyer who represents the family.

Wang’s brother, Xiaobing Wang, who lives in their hometown in China’s Jiang Su province, spoke through an interpreter to reporters at a news conference.

“We would like to know how that happened and to make sure it never happens again,” Xiaobing Wang said.

Li was accused of killing her husband with the radioactive substance which is employed to diagnose coronary artery disease but if used improperly can cause a slow and painful death.

She was charged with giving Wang thallium over a two-month period until he died in the hospital. She has pleaded not guilty to murder and is being held in lieu of $4.1 million bail.

The lawsuit allege that Li obtained the highly toxic drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has several research sites in New Jersey. Court papers claim the company failed to impose rigorous safety and security controls on dangerous drugs like thallium to guard against unauthorized access.

The lawsuit says Wang told doctors on the day he was admitted to the hospital that he and his wife were expecting to be divorced.

Court documents quote a note that a doctor placed in his medical chart that said Wang thought he was being poisoned and asked to have his urine tested for signs of poison.

“The fact that he is accusing his wife of poisoning him may suggest the presence of a paranoid syndrome, although one has to first exclude the possibility of any kind of poisoning,” the doctor wrote.

Rather than take Wang’s complaints seriously, “They allowed Li unrestricted access to his hospital room until Wang was found unresponsive,” Mongeluzzi’s firm said in a statement.

Another note from the medical chart, quoted in court papers, said Wang’s wife acted strangely during a visit.

“Wife should be monitored if comes to visit and patient shouldn’t be left alone,” the note said.

“This may sound like a story line right out of Agatha Christie, “CSI” or “House,” but it is tragically true,” Mongeluzzi said.

The couple’s young son is now in the custody of a relative.

Both the pharmaceutical company and the hospital declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. However, Bristol-Myers Squibb said in a statement: “Our condolences go out to the family of Xiaoye Wang. Bristol-Myers Squibb has provided assistance to law enforcement authorities during the investigation into Mr. Wang’s death.”

Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton

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