Saturday, July 28, 2007

Where to start?

Linda kindly invited me to join you in posting items of interest and this is my first post on any blog ever so be kind if I've made obvious mistakes. A colleague send me this article suggesting it might be interesting when I next teach insurance law. To introduce myself, I am director of the health law program at Texas Tech University School of Law (and an adjunct at the TTU School of Medicine) and teach, among other things, bioethics, med mal, and insurance law. The legal issue of this case was whether the doctor was covered under his professional liability insurance--not for medical malpractice but for mistreating an employee. The concept of whether something is, or is not, in the scope of employement is a highly subjective finding. The most recent example of how subjective is the Valerie Plame decision in which a court found it in high administration official's scope of employment to disclose the identity of active CIA agents.
The larger issue here, of course, is how a health care professional imagined it was appropriate to implant "tusks" while a patient was unconscious and then distribute pictures for the amusement of the entire office. For the particular purposes of this blog, I suggest this post says a lot about the role of women in the workplace and as patients. Without suggesting that this particular dentist wouldn't have done this to a man, I would suggest that this article could be a good way to generate a discussion of professional ethics.
With best wishes,
Jennifer Bard, JD, MPH

Court: Dentist covered in tusk implanting prank
Story Highlights
Court rules insurance policy covers dentist who implanted tusks as joke
Employee sues dentist, who settles case for $250,000
Insurance company says intentional acts such as pranks aren't covered
Insurance company won't pay; dentist sues insurer

OLYMPIA, Washington (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.

A Washington court ruled a dentist's malpractice insurance covers practical jokes.

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. E-mail to a friend
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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1 comment:

Linda MacDonald Glenn said...

Welcome, Jennifer and thanks! Obviously, this dentist wasn't familiar with the concept of patient autonomy or respect -- I represented a client a few years ago who sued her dentist for feeling her up while she was under -- talk about a violation of trust!