|August 14, 2014|
Previously published on August 7, 2014
A dentist owes a legal duty to those persons with whom she has a dentist/patient relationship. This relationship is the basis of her legal obligation to reasonably treat and care for her patients. So what establishes a dentist/patient relationship?
While this varies from state to state, it is surprisingly easy to create a dentist/patient relationship. Most obviously, a dentist/patient relationship is established when a patient makes an appointment, is examined by the dentist, and pays a fee for the visit. Likewise, a relationship is clearly established when a dentist operates on a patient.
A relationship can also be established much less formally. For example, a dentist at a holiday party who offers dental advice to another partygoer with the exception that he rely on such advice may have established a dentist/patient relationship. That the partygoer did not visit the dentist's office or pay for the consultation may not matter. Moreover, a dentist/patient relationship can be formed even where the only "treatment" rendered is a referral to another doctor.
In sum, a dentist/patient relationship is the source of a dentist's legal duty to his patient. As such, dentists should be cautious in offering dental advice in informal settings and should take care in screening potential patients to help reduce their exposure to liability.