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Dentist Finds Jokes Funny (and Surprisingly Profitable…)

 

Your Dental Practice Insurance May Cover Practical Jokes

Washington State’s Supreme Court recently heard the unusual case of a dentist’s practical joke gone wrong. Oral surgeon Robert Woo played a trick on his assistant; when she found out, she was so embarrassed that she quit her job and sued Dr. Woo. The doctor settled with the woman, but his insurance company refused to cover the claim. So Dr. Woo sued his insurer; after several appeals, the case landed before the State Supreme Court, which found in favor of the doctor and ordered his insurance company to pay up.

But one can’t really do this story justice in a single paragraph. You want to know what the joke was, don’t you?

Employee Tina Alperts was under anesthesia while Dr. Woo gave her dental implants. During the procedure, the doctor put fake boar tusks in the woman’s mouth and snapped a few pictures before taking them out. (The backstory here is that Alperts’ family raises potbellied pigs, which was a frequent topic of joking around the office.) The surgeon did not personally show Alperts the photos, but other employees circulated them around the office.

Humiliated, Alperts sued Dr. Woo. His insurer wouldn’t cover it (calling the joke “not a normal business activity”), so he settled with her out of court for $250,000. Then he sued Fireman’s Fund, his insurance company. Dr. Woo won the first round, with the court ordering Fireman’s Fund to pay the doctor the $250,000 settlement plus an additional $750,000. The insurance company won their appeal, but the State Supreme Court finally restored the original award.

The court was split 5-4 over the issue. The majority found the doctor’s joke to be an integral part of his practice, even if unconventional. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Johnson said the decision only “rewards Dr. Woo’s obnoxious behavior and allows him to profit handsomely.”

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