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A local oral surgeon should have been backed by his insurance provider when an employee sued him for putting fake boar tusks in her mouth and taking photographs while he performed a dental procedure on her, the state Supreme Court decided today. The court ruled that Auburn dentist Robert Woo should have received legal defense from Fireman's Fund Insurance, restoring an original jury verdict to award the dentist $750,000 after it was overturned by an appeals court.

In a dissenting opinion, one justice wrote that today's decision "rewards Dr. Woo's obnoxious behavior and allows him to profit handsomely," while also calling the original incident involving his assistant "intentional offensive and likely tortuous conduct."

Woo will get $750,000 in damages, attorney fees, and is also reimbursed the $250,000 that he paid to settle the original lawsuit with his employee.

The eight-year legal jumble can all be traced back to a pot-bellied pig named Walter, owned by Woo's surgical assistant. The assistant, who worked for Woo for five years, talked frequently about Walter in the office, and about the abandoned pot-bellied pigs that she cared for, according to court documents.

Woo made several remarks, including how he would like to barbecue Walter, documents said. He went on a boar-hunting trip and brought back pictures of a dead boar to show the assistant. Woo claimed that his comments were just part of a "friendly working environment," documents said.

But then he pulled out the fake boar tusks.

The assistant needed to have two teeth replaced with implants, and Woo told her he could do it, documents said.

Woo prepared a pair of fake boar tusks and, while his assistant was sedated for the procedure, Woo removed the oxygen mask, inserted the tusks in her mouth and took photos without her consent. He later developed the pictures and showed them to employees, and later one of his other employees gave them to the assistant as a birthday present. The assistant was stunned.

So stunned that she filed a lawsuit with several complaints against the dentist, including invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress and medical negligence.

Woo sought defense with his insurer, Fireman's, who would not defend him because his actions did not fall under "dental services," documents said.

Woo settled with his assistant for $250,000 and then took his insurer to court. In June 2003, the King County Superior Court jury awarded the dentist $750,000, but that was overturned two years later by the state Court of Appeals, although it left the $250,000 settlement intact.


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