Insurance Law

Dentist Wins Toothy Coverage Case

The joke isn’t on Dr. Robert Woo after all. The Washington state dentist is going to get the last laugh—and $750,000—the Washington Supreme Court has decided, in an insurance coverage case over an office prank.

The prank—temporarily implanting an assistant with fake boar tusks and photographing her while she was under anesthesia in Woo’s chair—resulted in a malpractice and invasion of privacy suit that the dentist’s insurance carrier refused to defend. Fireman’s Fund contended that it had no duty to do so, because the dentist’s conduct was outside the normal scope of dental practice, and a state appellate court and four supreme court judges agreed, according to reports by the Associated Press and Seattle Times.

However, a five-judge supreme court majority found in Woo’s favor yesterday, ruling that Fireman’s Fund did have a duty to defend. Because Woo’s conduct “conceivably” triggered the insurer’s duty to indemnify the dentist under the professional liability coverage provided by his policy, the insurer had to provide him with a defense in his assistant’s case, the court explains in its opinion.

It reinstated a $750,000 jury award to Woo, which included a $250,000 settlement he paid the assistant after Fireman’s Fund refused to deal with the dispute.

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