NY drug co., NJ hospital sued over man's poisoning

Xiaoye Wang came to the United States from China to study computer engineering and met his future wife while earning a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Jan. 14, the day they were to finalize their divorce, the 39-year-old Wang went to a Princeton, N.J., hospital with abdominal pain and numbness in his hands and feet. He told hospital staff he feared his wife was poisoning him — but was deemed paranoid, according to a lawsuit his relatives filed this week.

Twelve days later, after visits from his wife, Wang was in a coma and died.

His wife, chemist Tianle Li, was charged in early February with fatally poisoning her estranged husband with the rat poison Thallium. She has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, and remains jailed in Middlesex County, N.J., on $4 million bail.

In their lawsuit, Wang's relatives accuse University Medical Center of not protecting Wang or calling in police to investigate his claims. They claim Li's employer, New York City-based pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, did not restrict access to the radioactive metal sometimes dubbed "the inheritance powder," despite what they call Li's erratic, explosive behavior on the job.

A spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical company declined comment on the lawsuit, but offered condolences to Wang's family. A spokeswoman for Princeton HealthCare System, which operates the hospital, also declined comment.

Wang's brother, Xiaobing, who lives in China, and his cousin Weiguo Wang of Washington state brought the lawsuit. Both serve as administrators of his estate. They believe the 40-year-old Li, upset about the divorce, began slipping the tasteless, odorless poison into her husband's food or drink in November and continued to do so in the hospital, said family lawyer Brian Fritz of Philadelphia.

Thallium, which can be fatal in doses as small as a gram, is the reputed poison of choice for assassins. It's been banned for consumer use in the U.S. since 1972. The poison was initially suspected to be the toxin used in the 2006 fatal poisoning in London of former Russian KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, but it was later determined he had ingested the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210.

"Bristol-Myers knew or should have known that Li was an unstable person who should never had had access to deadly Thallium," said Robert Mongeluzzi, who along with Fritz filed the suit in Superior Court in N.J. "And the hospital ... should have listened to their patient who feared for his life."

The lawsuit alleges that another employee had gotten a restraining order against Li and that she exhibited odd or violent behavior at the Lawrenceville campus. The suit claims Bristol-Myers Squibb knew about the order and Li's behavior.

The company has said Li worked as a chemist for 10 years before she was fired.

According to the lawsuit, University Medical Center staff wrote on Wang's chart when he transferred to intensive care Jan. 23 that he was unresponsive and foaming at the mouth. "Nightfloat (nurse) reported wife came to visit patient at 8:05 p.m. — acting strangely, not leaving bedside. Wife should be monitored if (she) comes to visit and patient shouldn't be left alone," the suit said the staff wrote.

The couple had a son, now 2, who is staying with his maternal grandmother, Fritz said. Wang, who worked in New York City, had an apartment in Jersey City. But he was primarily living in the couple's home in Monroe, N.J., to help care for their child, Fritz said.

Attorney Steven Altman, who represents Li in the criminal case, has confirmed that police responded to several domestic calls at the house. None involved any serious injuries, authorities have said.