Dr. Mommy Dentist

Monday, July 30, 2007

interesting story

Dentist Wins Case Over Tusks in Mouth

('OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- An oral surgeon who temporarily implanted fake boar tusks in his assistant's mouth as a practical joke and got sued for it has gotten the state's high court to back up his gag.');

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: July 27, 2007
Filed at 2:45 p.m. ET

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- An oral surgeon who temporarily implanted fake boar tusks in his assistant's mouth as a practical joke and got sued for it has gotten the state's high court to back up his gag.
Dr. Robert Woo of Auburn had put in the phony tusks while the woman was under anesthesia for a different procedure. He took them out before she awoke, but he first shot 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.
Woo's insurance company, Fireman's Fund, refused to cover the claim, saying the practical joke was intentional and not a normal business activity his insurance policy covered, so Woo settled out of court. He agreed to pay Alberts $250,000, then he sued his insurers.
A King County Superior Court jury sided with 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 Woo's practice of dentistry. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court restored Woo's award.
In a sprightly 5-4 decision, Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote that 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.
Dissenting Justice James Johnson said the prank wasn't a dental procedure at all and only ''rewards Dr. Woo's obnoxious behavior and allows him to profit handsomely.''
The back story, the court wrote, is that Alberts' family raises potbellied pigs and that she frequently talked about them at the office where she worked for five years.
Woo said his jests about the pigs were part of ''a friendly working environment'' that he tried to foster.
The oral surgery on Alberts was intended to replace two of her teeth with implants, which Woo did. First, though, he installed temporary bridges that he had shaped to look like boar tusks, and while Alberts was still under anesthesia, he took photos, some with her eyes propped open. Before she woke up, he removed the ''tusks'' and put in the proper replacement teeth.
Woo says he didn't personally show her the pictures but staffers gave her copies at a birthday party.
Woo's lawyer, Richard Kilpatrick, described the surgeon as a kindhearted, fun-loving man who was chagrined that an office prank turned out so badly. He was delighted with the high court's decision, Kilpatrick said.
Attorneys for the insurance company did not immediately return calls seeking comment.


it's funny how office dynamics work and the level of familiarity that people have and/or think they have amongst their co-workers. did this guy cross the line? it was obvious that this employee felt confident enough in his abilites and comfortable enough to ask this doctor to extract her teeth and replace with them implants, and it may be safe to assume that there was probably at least a certain level of familiarity between these two people (i never asked any of the dentists that i worked with for treatment until i'd been there long enough to establish a comfortable relationship, but that's just me). this may have given the doctor the false sense of security with this woman, and it sounds like he was a bit of a prankster himself so he felt like he could go ahead with such a "harmless" joke. personally, i thought it was kind of funny, especially if it was a joke between work friends. i could see how it was a lapse of judgement at the time and if he offended her, a profuse apology should have sufficed. i could even have understood the fact that she quit, as there was a breach of trust and now a lack of confidence. but to sue for $250,000 sounds preposterous to me. it's not like he took naked pictures of her and distributed them over the internet. the pictures were distributed amongst friends and coworkers at a birthday party, a party to which he was obviously invited and i don't know about you, but i don't invite random strangers or just any boss i work with to my birthday parties. is this another example of another good old american trying to bilk the legal system, or was this a truly legitimate complaint in which someone was horribly violated? when is that line crossed?

we as professionals do have to guard our words and our actions more stringently in the workplace. it is obvious that you cannot assume that level of familiarity with anyone, especially your coworkers. i had a very similar experience with this not that long ago. both of the offices i work in are very casual - the way we hang out after hours, talk amongst ourselves, and even the way we interact with the patients. we are all extremely friendly and comfortable with each other. the hygienist that i work with on saturdays has a page on facebook and when i signed up i noticed her picture on one of my friend's pages. it was an awesome shot of her in hot pants and a tight little top, and she looked absolutely stunning in it. so when i saw her again to ask if i could add her to my friends list, i said, "hey D, i saw your facebook picture, wow hoochie mama, it was awesome!" she didn't say anything to me but gave me this strange look and avoided me for the rest of the day. when i approached her the next week i worked with her and asked her what was wrong, and she told me what i had said to her was extremely offensive and that she does not use that kind of language, i was totally taken aback. i had worked with and chatted with this person for over a year, and even exchanged that word with my other co-workers and assumed no harm in it. of course i apologized profusely and she accepted, but the relationship has certainly changed and it will take time to build up that trust again on both ends. if i had learned anything from this experience, it is to not assume that level of familiarity with people, especially in the work environment. hopefully, she doesn't sue me or my malpractice insurance company.

7 Comments:

  • So The Facebook is getting you in trouble already...

    After skimming that article, I do feel that what was done during the surgery was somewhat inappropriate--but I also feel that the financial remedies were somewhat excessive.

    By Blogger Ameloblast, At Monday, July 30, 2007  

  • that's the strange thing about litigation in the states. you get compensated for "pain and suffering" and the dollar amount for that is just arbirtarily determined by the judge heading the case (there's a table for body parts and organs in injury cases). how do you put a number on "mental anguish" and how do you separate the crap from the real stuff? i know here, for example, if you lose a limb due to someone's negligence or an accident, each body part is assigned a certain award cap and there is no "pain and suffering" stipulation. do you know anything about "mental anguish" legal rules up here? one of my patients is a criminal defense attorney, i should probably ask him.

    and who is to determine where the line is crossed? for example, if some guy ripped my jacket off on the street, i wouldn't likely be embarassed (unless i was naked under my coat, as has happened on occasion) but perhaps ripping an article of clothing from, say, a muslim woman wearing a burka might have completely psychological and hence legal ramifications. i.e., this joke sounds silly and harmless to me and i probably would have had those pictures framed if that was done to me, but someone else may have issues with it. ick, it's a sticky situation i hope i'm never in.

    p.s. i was only kidding about the naked under the coat thing.

    p.p.s. don't get any ideas in the rare instance i might need to see you for treatment.

    By Blogger Dr. Mommy, D.D.S., At Monday, July 30, 2007  

  • Perhaps some may see it as inappropriate, I suppose it really depends on how good a friendship there is. I've always gotten along really well with the people I work with and we're all huge practical jokers. I have been the instigator and also the butt of many jokes!

    Sometimes I think it's just that some people don't have much of a sense of humour when it comes to themselves.

    It's dentistry. It can be such a stressful profession and we do what we can to make our work environment fun.

    I agree that if she was truly offended by it, a sincere apology should have been sufficient.

    By Blogger Kissaki, At Tuesday, July 31, 2007  

  • I'll be interested to learn whether Dr. Woo has any trouble renewing his insurance.

    Chuck McKay
    www.AdvanceMyPractice.com

    By Anonymous Chuck McKay, At Sunday, May 25, 2008  

  • I would like to play a practical joke on one of my staff members and be plus $500,000 when it was all over.
    I think the whole thing is ridiculous.
    People are too sensitive. He didn't do anything wrong enough to get the court involved.
    It just tells you how pathetic people are.

    By Blogger gatordmd, At Sunday, March 08, 2009  

  • Thanks for great information you write it very clean. I am very lucky to get this tips from you.

    Orthodontist Fairfield CT

    By Blogger rahul, At Wednesday, July 25, 2012  

  • "It's dentistry. It can be such a stressful profession and we do what we can to make our work environment fun." definitely I agree to this. Tough job :)

    By Anonymous Dentiste Cadieux et Langevin, At Saturday, May 23, 2015  

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