July 27, 2007

Dentist implants boar tusks on unconscious patient, photographs her, and later he wins $750,000 in a lawsuit about it.

How does that happen?
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....

The backstory, 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.
So... why did he win? Because everyone hates insurance companies? Because women who talk too much about their oddball pets deserve humilation -- as long as they're unconscious?

30 comments:

MadisonMan said...

Who would go to this dentist now, though, for a procedure for which they were put under? Dr. Woo way have won from the insurance company, but the publicity will surely cost him.

vnjagvet said...

At least his attorneys did a good job. According to the article, Woo settled the case with his ex-employee for $250,000.

The insurance company had declined to defend or participate in the settlement asserting the employees claim was not the the type of claim professional liability insurance was intended to cover.

Woo's attorneys sued the insurance company for bad faith failure to defend and indemnify and won at trial. The Washington intermediate court reversed but Supreme Court reversed that decision and approved the jury verdict.

All in all, I think it was a rational decision, and probably the right result

Hoosier Daddy said...

All in all, I think it was a rational decision, and probably the right result

Which probably explains why I didn't go to law school as it is clearly evident there is a different concept of rationality than I subscribe to.

Is playing practical jokes part of anyone's profession other than circus clowns? I don't think what he did warranted a quarter million dollar award but to then turn around and sue the insurance company because he's a dork is yet another example of why I think this nation badly needs tort reform.

Nice job Doc. Now everyone's premiums will increase because you're an idiot.

Zeb Quinn said...

Me, I'm not so sure that this is malpractice within the meaning of a malpractice insurance policy. It might fall under some other kind of policy, like a commercial umbrella.

reader_iam said...

All other issues aside, this man demonstrated a clear lack of boundaries and professional ethics. The fact that he would even consider doing anything to an unconscious person not previously agreed to speaks volumes. Wish there was a way to put an asterisk next to his "Dr." title with an explanatory footnote: Not To Be Trusted!

vnjagvet said...

The insurance company, IMHO, made some tactical errors. Rather than simp ly refusing to defend or indemnify, it should have filed an action for declaratory judgment seeking a definitive ruling by the court that its policy did not cover Woo's caper.

Had it done that, it would not have exposed itself to treble damages; its max exposure would have been about $250k, the amount of the settlement plus Woo's costs of defense.

Instead, it took its chances that Woo either would not sue or would lose at trial. I think that was an error in judgment.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I'm wanting to quote "Deadwood's" Al Swearingen: F^@k Woo!

Pogo said...

While an attorney or judge might view this as a 'rational' outcome, average citizens see it as a gross miscarriage of justice.

Dr. Woo won a tiny battle, but lost the war. Who would be stupid enough to see him now?

Simon said...

Aren't there any kind of ethical standards that dentists are held to? Is there a dental equivalent to disbarment? Can't he be stripped of his license or something?

At least the lawsuit he won was against the insurers, not the victim. The victim at least got compensated!

vnjagvet said...

I don't disagree with you, pogo. I am just trying to explain the legal bs. In cases like this, the paths chosen by the attorneys often have a major affect on the outcome.

Simon said...

By the way - why were only civil actions pursued? Why wasn't this criminal battery?

Simon said...

("Alberts [only] filed suit against Woo alleging outrage, battery, invasion of privacy, false light, public disclosure of private acts, nonpayment of overtime wages, retaliation for requesting payment of overtime wages, medical negligence, lack of informed consent, and negligent infliction of emotional distress")

Paddy O. said...

My guess is that he thought there was a more friendly relationship with this co-worker than there was and that she had a sense of humor that would appreciate such a thing. Personally, as long as it wasn't permanent I think it'd be hoot to have a picture of myself with boar tusks.

Sure she might have been embarrassed, but $250,000 worth of embarrassment for what was a temporary attempt at a bad joke? Come on, average citizens would think that's a huge amount of money to begin with.

Where can I volunteer to have snapshots of me with temporary boar tusks so that I can buy a house with the proceeds?

Jennifer said...

But if he really thought she had a sense of humor and would appreciate the joke, wouldn't he have shown her the pictures?

Simon said...

Paddy - that's just the point though. You're consenting. She might have thought it was funny if she had consented. But she didn't. He sedated her, carried out a clearly undesirable invasion of her body, certainly without her consent, and for maximum humiliation, photographed it.

I'm not saying that she should get more money. I'm saying he ought to be punished with whatever professional or criminal sanctions can be levied against him.

Dewave said...

Idiocy. And we wonder why health care costs are so expensive...

Mr. Woo should have paid out the nose for violating this womans privacy while she was unconscious, and the insurance company shouldn't have paid him a dime.

Joe said...

Dr. Woo assaulted a patient; he should lose his license to practice dentistry. And only in lawyer lala land does he win his insurance claim. (And lawyers wonder why everyone else thinks they're scum.)

Paddy O. said...

Jennifer, I think that's probably the point. And moves it to sharing a joke to laughing at.

Simon, I probably would have thought it was funny anyhow. But, I'll bet she wasn't the kind to think that.

Still, $250,000? I'd say $25,000 is plenty of compensation for a practical joke. A car, sure. A house, way overboard.

Drew W said...

Wow, that's more than a story -- it's a High Concept. The stomach-churning dental nightmares of Marathon Man meet the heartwarming marine mammals of Arctic Tale. (Call it Son Of Blubber? Hustle & Floe? Okay, no, but I'm getting there.)

Seriously, though. When people seek treatment through the Healing Arts, I'm not sure those people are looking for a doctor who'll play wacky practical jokes on them. I agree with Pogo that this dentist's weird behavior should effectively scare away potential patients. The fact that he managed to extravagantly milk an insurance company does not make him an ideal choice to do a root canal.

Chip Ahoy said...

She should DEMAND AN APOLOGY! And then maybe be awarded the procedure for free, since the whole thing was such a jolly good joke.

Then they could at least show us the picture and share the joke since we're ultimately paying for her umbrage.

save_the_rustbelt said...

Keeping anyone under any form of anesthesia for 1 minute more than necessary is incredibly stupid.

In some states his conduct might be considered criminal battery. Physicians are trained to do nothing and touch nothing that is not immediately relevant to the procedure.

Christy said...

So how much extra time did this tusk implant take? (I'm one of those who believe any extra minute spent in the dentist's chair is deserving of a fortune.) How do we know that the stress of the larger than designed for teeth, even for a short time, hasn't done long term damage to the bone? Don't you believe that the extra manipulation of the implant added some measure of soreness or pain? A pal of mine just spent tens of thousands having every tooth in her head replaced by implants (the delayed cost of bulimia, but, hey, at 60 she still has one heck of a figure) and while it wasn't awful, it wasn't terribly fun.

vnjagvet, while the case may have been decided correctly on the law, I deny that it is a "right" decision. In fact, I've begun to deeply resent the fact that a moral compass can get no bearing on the law.

*jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vnjagvet said...

I hear you Chrissy. That is why there are jury trials. They are the people our system appoints as the conscience of the community.

Whose morals (aside from your own) would you propose we apply in cases such as these?

And what procedures would you propose different from those in existence to assure such morals are uniformly applied?

Christy said...

vnjagvet, why, my Momma's rules, of course!

LoafingOaf said...

christy: while the case may have been decided correctly on the law, I deny that it is a "right" decision.

Before you concede it was correctly decided on the law, bear in mind that the Court of Appeals and four of the Washington Supreme Court justices agree with you! So, it's obviously not a very clear-cut case.

vnjagvet said...

No, LO. That is the reason for the old aphorism, "hard cases make bad law".

amba said...

This is not The Onion?

Paco Wové said...

In what way is this decision "sprightly"?

halojones-fan said...

Ann: Please put vnjagvet's comment in the top post, so that readers understand the situation. As it is, your post makes it look as though the patient sued the dentist and HE won!

As for the case: Meh. I think that others have said it best: No matter who wins, he loses, because who would go to him for treatment now?

I mean, yes, it was a practical joke that turned out badly, and I'm sure that he feels very sorry now, but seriously--implanting fake boar tusks into a sedated woman's head. That sounds like a sequence from a creepy fetish-porn video...