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Court Of Appeal Dismisses Dental Practice Owners Appeal in Hughes V Rattan

The Court of Appeal handed down judgement on 4 February 2022 in a landmark case brought by the Dental Law Partnership to determine the liability of dental practice owners for dental care provided at their practice.  The dental profession has steadfastly maintained that dental practices are not responsible for dental care carried out on their premises, this liability instead falling on the individual treating dentists.

This claim was brought against Dr Raj Rattan, the Dental Director of Dental Protection, in his capacity as the owner of an NHS dental practice at which our client, Mrs Hughes, was treated. Dr Rattan argued that his practice, in keeping with the business model of all NHS dental practices,  was, in reality, simply providing serviced premises to facilitate dentists to carry on their own independent practices and was acting as a referral agency for the treating dentists.

The High Court dismissed this fiction at a hearing back in July 2021 and Dr Rattan appealed to the Court of Appeal which today confirmed that the High Court was correct in doing so. The Court of Appeal held that NHS dental practices are providing dental services to their patients and not merely acting as an administrative hub for the treating dentists to operate their own practices and accordingly NHS dental practices owe a direct duty of care to their patients to ensure that care of a reasonable standard is provided.

In legal terms this is termed a non-delegable duty of care owed to patients, so called because the practice owner’s liability to patients cannot be delegated to the individual treating dentists. The Court of Appeal did accept that the treating dentists were providing labour only services to the practice as independent contractors but emphasised that this made no difference to the practice owner’s own liability to the patient.

The Dental Law Partnership is delighted to be leading the march for dental patients’ rights with this common sense victory for patients who have been injured by their dentist’s care. Following a long campaign by the Dental Law Partnership, NHS dental practices now have the same legal liability for care provided to their patients as NHS hospitals and this will make bringing a claim for negligent dental treatment provided at a High Street NHS dental practice much more effective than pursuing the individual treating dentists who are separately represented and insured.

Mrs Hughes was represented by Ben Collins QC of Old Square Chambers. A full case summary can be found at :

https://oldsquare.co.uk/rattan-v-hughes-case-note/

The full Court of Appeal Judgement can be found at :

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2022/107.html