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