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Pharmaceutical company and NJ hospital sued for wrongful death

The relatives of a man who died in a New Jersey hospital after allegedly being poisoned by his wife have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and the pharmaceutical company that employed his wife. The defendants are accused of allowing the man's wife continued access to both the fatal drug and the man, and in doing so, of negligently causing his death.

According to the wrongful death suit, the 29-year-old man died in January at the University Medical Center in Princeton, two weeks after he was admitted to the hospital, complaining of abdominal pain and numbness in his hands and feet. After his death, it was learned that he had been poisoned with thallium, an odorless, radioactive metal substance that is generally used to diagnose coronary artery disease. Investigators concluded that the man's wife had been slipping him the chemical for at least two months before his death, including during his hospital stay.

On the day he was admitted, he informed doctors that he and his wife were planning to divorce, and that he suspected that he was being poisoned. The attending physician made a note of the man's request to be tested for poison, as was shown by a note in the man's chart. "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. However, there is no indication that the doctor complied with the man's request.

In fact, the lawsuit alleges, the wife had continued access to the man's room, despite an additional note in his chart stating that she was acting strangely and that she should be monitored when she came to visit. Since her husband's death, she has been arrested and charged with murder.

The lawsuit also names drug company Bristol Myers Squibb, which employed the wife, as a defendant, claiming that the company failed to impose and enforce appropriate safety and security controls on such a dangerous substance.

Source: Reuters, "Lawsuit names drug company, hospital over suspected murder case," Dave Warner, August 4, 2011

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