another article rendered useless by lack of photos

Court backs dentist who gave his assistant a set of boar's tusks

A Dentist who temporarily implanted fake boar tusks in his assistant's mouth as a practical joke and was sued for it has been backed up by the high court in the state of Washington.

Dr Robert Woo, of Auburn, Washington, had put in the false tusks while the woman was under anaesthesia for a different procedure. He took them out before she awoke, but first took photos that eventually made it around the office.

The employee, Tina Alberts, felt so humiliated when she saw the pictures that she quit and sued her boss.

Dr Woo's insurance company, Fireman's Fund, refused to cover the claim, saying the joke was intentional and not a normal business activity covered by his insurance policy, so Dr Woo settled out of court. He agreed to pay Ms Alberts $250,000, then he sued his insurers.

A King County Superior Court jury sided with Dr Woo, ordering Fireman's Fund to pay him $750,000, plus the out-of-court settlement. The insurance company won the next round, with the state Court of Appeals saying the prank had nothing to do with Dr Woo's practice of dentistry. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court restored Dr Woo's award.

In a 5-4 decision, Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote that Dr Woo's practical joke was an integral, if odd, part of the assistant's dental surgery and "conceivably" should trigger the professional liability coverage of his policy.

Justice James Johnson said the prank wasn't a dental procedure and only rewarded Dr Woo's "obnoxious behaviour and allows him to profit handsomely".

The court heard that Ms Alberts' family raises potbellied pigs and she frequently talked about them at the office.

Dr Woo claimed his jests about the pigs were part of "a friendly working environment" he tried to foster.

He said he did not personally show her the pictures, but surgery staff members gave her copies at a birthday party.

Dr Woo's lawyer, Richard Kilpatrick, described the surgeon as a kind-hearted, fun-loving man who was shocked that a prank turned out so badly.

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13 Responses:

  1. baconmonkey says:

    Dr. WoooooOOO HEY!
    Dr. Woo.
    Dr. WoooooOOO HEY!
    Dr. Woo.

  2. placeslost says:

    I should start doing more pranks in hopes of a half million dollar payday.

  3. prof_null says:

    I wouldn't want my teeth done by anyone who does "pranks" - this is nuts. Quarter of a million bucks for a stupid photograph or two?
    Hmmmmm . . . . . .
    I'm terribly offended by the idea that someone can get so much moolah for a bit of embarrassment.
    You'll be hearing from my lawyer! ;)
    Wooo- wooo!

  4. Holy CRAP! I had an appointment with that guy about three months ago that I ended up canceling when I lost my dental insurance.

  5. korgmeister says:

    How many times do people have to be told that pranks are a guy thing? Don't prank your female co-workers unless you like spending lots of time in court.

    (Awaits the flood of female LJers who indignantly assert that they like being pranked and that I should shove my sexist stereotyping up my ass.)

  6. fozz47 says:

    The message here? Prank away, and your insurance will pay!

  7. artlung says:

    Doctor Wu:

    Are you with me Doctor Wu?
    Are you really just a shadow
    Of the man that I once knew?
    Are you crazy are you high?
    Or just an ordinary guy?
    Have you done all you can do?
    Are you with me Doctor?


    Are you with me Doctor Wu?
    Are you really just a shadow
    Of the man that I once knew?
    She is lovely yes she's sly
    And you're an ordinary guy
    Has she finally got to you?
    Can you hear me Doctor?

  8. nyankolove says:

    Pranks are one thing, but nobody wants to be pranked when they're under total anesthesia. You're completely vulnerable, and you're trusting the doctor to be professional during that time.

    Not that I don't think a quarter million dollars is a bit much, but the doctor hopefully learned a lesson... which is why insurance shouldn't cover it either. "Integral part of the procedure"? Would fondling count as an "integral part of the procedure" as well?

    I would have quit too.