The family of a man whose wife is accused of poisoning him to death is accusing Bristol-Myers Squibb and University Medical Center at Princeton of gross negligence and outrageous conduct that led to his death on Jan. 26.
Xiaoye Wang, 39, who died of thallium poisoning at the hospital, was allegedly poisoned by his estranged wife, Tianle Li, 41, over time and during the time he was in his hospital room.
Police investigators allege Ms. Li obtained the highly lethal radioactive metal from Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Lawrence facility, where she had worked for 10 years as a chemist.
Mr. Wang’s family is being represented by the Philadelphia law firm of Saltz, Mongeluzzi and Bendesky, PC. The complaint was filed state Superior Court in Camden on Thursday.
Mr. Wang, a computer software engineer who lived with Ms. Li in Monroe, checked himself into the hospital on Jan. 14 – 12 days before his death – complaining of lung ailments and congestion.
Mr. Wang told doctors his wife was poisoning him and on Jan. 18 they began testing him for thallium poisoning, but the positive results did not come until a week later.
Brian Fritz, an attorney for firm representing the family, said the hospital should have taken affirmative, proactive measures to make sure Mr. Wang was safe and secure.
“They didn’t call anyone outside of the hospital until he slipped into a coma,” he said.
On the night before Mr. Wang was found unresponsive, specifically at 8:05 p.m. on Jan. 22, a nurse in the intensive care unit wrote a note that said Ms. Li was acting in a suspicious manner by Mr. Wang’s bedside.
On Jan. 25, doctors contacted poison control and poison control contacted local authorities. According to the county prosecutor’s office, Jan. 25 was the date the hospital received the results of the thallium test that came back positive.
Mr. Wang died at 3:10 p.m. the next day.
Ms. Li was arrested Jan. 28 and is being held at the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center in North Brunswick, with bail set at $4.15 million.
“Bristol-Myers (Squibb) knew or should have known that Ms. Li was an unstable person who should never have had access to deadly thallium,” said Robert J. Mongeluzzi of the law firm in a release announcing the family’s complaint. “And the hospital and its professional staff – including doctors – should have listened to their patient who feared for his life. Instead, they enabled her time and access to finish what she had started. This may sound like a story line right out of Agatha Christie, ‘CSI’ or ‘House,’ but it is tragically true.”
The law firm’s press release was released Thursday.”Our condolences go out to the family of Xiaoye Wang,” said Laura Hortas, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s business communications director. “We have not seen the complaint against BMS and will not comment. BMS has provided assistance to law enforcement authorities during the investigation of Mr. Wang’s death.”The University Medical Center at Princeton also was not able to comment on the press release, said Amy Franco Rodriguez, director of marketing and public affairs.
Thallium is a soft, tasteless, odorless, malleable and highly toxic metal found in the earth’s crust. It was used in rat poisoning and insecticides in the United States before production of the metal was banned in 1984.
The water-soluble metal is known in criminal literature – fiction and non-fiction – as “Inheritance Powder” or “The Poisoner’s Poison,” and has been banned for consumer sale in the United States since 1972.
It is used in medical research, partly to help diagnose coronary heart disease through the administration of a radioactive stress test, reads the law firm’s press release.
Mr. Fritz said any company dealing with such a deadly toxic material has a duty to make sure only authorized personnel have access to the poison.
“(Briston-Myers Squibb) deserves to be held responsible because it was the source of the murder weapon,” said Mr. Fritz. “Events following Sept. 11, 2001, revealed that deadly substances such as thallium are major threats and should be tightly regulated. Based on their own records, BMS knew that Li had displayed erratic and threatening behavior in the workplace and was capable of anything.
“Li was able to remove (the thallium) from the facility. So for them to have such lax control of that can’t be anything other than outrageous and grossly negligent.”
Mr. Fritz added, “When you have a patient and they’re complaining of someone poisoning them and you take a specific poisoning determining test and you still allow the suspect unrestricted access to the patient, so that the potential poison can continue, and you don’t call law enforcement, and the patient then becomes unresponsive, that likewise can’t be considered anything other than outrageous.”
“There are quotations throughout the medical records from shortly after he was admitted (to the hospital) saying he believed his wife was poisoning him. We know what they didn’t do. They didn’t take his complaints seriously.”
Mr. Wang’s brothers, Xiabing and Weigou, came from China and Washington state, respectively, to file the complaint in Camden and take care of Mr. Wang’s house on Stanley Drive in Monroe. Currently, no one owns the estate, since it can only be admitted to someone through court order.
Ultimately Mr. Wang and Ms. Li’s child, Isaac, 2, would be the one to receive the estate. The child is staying with Ms. Li’s mother.