Chase the lady: how a retired dentist was finally tracked down and persuaded to acknowledge and meet a negligence claim

I was instructed by a solicitor to advise on next steps in in relation to meaningful enquiries that may be made of the current address of a potential Defendant dentist who had, since treating the solicitor’s client at the material time, retired as a dentist, sold the dental practice to new owners and removed herself from the Dentists Register. 

The client had managed to get hold of his dental records from the new owners of the dental practice, and interestingly, they had confirmed in e-mail correspondence that they had sought permission to disclose the records from the Defendant, but they hadn’t disclosed the contact details for the Defendant.

A pre-action Letter of Claim had been sent by my instructing solicitor, and the new practice owners had confirmed that they had forwarded it on, but there had been no response. Contact had also been made with one of the large dental indemnifiers, who had confirmed that the dentist was one of their members, but ultimately they confirmed that they had “no interest” (meaning that they also had been unable to make contact with her).

The solicitors had instructed an enquiry agent and had identified a potential “candidate” but this had subsequently proved not to be the Defendant.

Having carried out a brief internet search myself, I identified that the “new” owners of the dental practice included a registered dentist. I advised my instructing solicitors to write to that individual to ask for the Defendant’s current or last-known home address, reminding them of the GDC’s “Standards for the Dental Team”: Standard 9.4: “Cooperate with any relevant formal or informal enquiry and give full and truthful information”; and

Para 9.4.2 of the Guidance to Standard 9.4: “You must cooperate with: …any solicitor, barrister or advocate representing patients or colleagues”.

I suggested that in the alternative instructing solicitors should ask the new owner to contact the Defendant themselves, requesting permission to release her home address details so that they could deal directly with her rather than having to trouble them further. If they declined to do so, I advised explaining that the Claimant would apply to the Court for a third party disclosure order (a Norwich Pharmacal Order) that they should disclose her contact address/details. Again, I suggested reminding the new dentist owner of the practice of the GDC Standards which require her cooperation.

This recommended approach produced a response from the dentist who now owned the practice, providing the last known residential address of the Defendant.

In the meantime, I identified, applying my dental background, that the allegations of negligence in the original pre-action Letter of Claim drafted by my instructing solicitor were unlikely to have good prospects of success. However, I identified alternative likely allegations of breach of duty which had led to the Claimant avoidably losing a tooth, suffering a dry socket, requiring additional surgery to remove a bony sequestrum and also requiring future remedial treatment to replace the tooth with an implant-supported crown. These allegations were then confirmed by independent expert evidence.

Instructing solicitors instructed an enquiry agent again and searches were made of the Land Registry. This suggested that the Defendant may have been trading previously under her maiden name, but was possibly the owner of the relevant property under a married name.

Further investigation via ancestry.com followed and confirmed that this assumption was very likely correct. A copy of a marriage certificate and subsequently a death certificate of the Defendant’s husband was duly obtained which confirmed matters. Following this, a copy of the will of the Defendant’s late husband and associated grant of probate was obtained.

It appeared that there would be reasonable prospects of enforcing a judgment against the Defendant in the event she continued to ignore the claim.

A new pre-action Letter of Claim containing the updated allegations of breach and causation was sent to the Defendant’s address. No response was received. A claim was issued shortly before expiry of limitation and I was instructed to draft Particulars of Claim. I advised personal service upon the Defendant, which was duly effected by a process server.

Shortly after service of proceedings on the Defendant at her home, the indemnity organisation, with minimal explanation, made a Calderbank offer to settle the claim for £6500 together with payment of the Claimant’s reasonable costs. The offer was accepted by the Claimant, on advice.

Contact Heather Beckett:

Instructing solicitors are warmly invited to contact Heather at Goldsmith Chambers:

Telephone:  0207 7353 6802
e-mail:  clerks@goldsmithchambers.com
Civil clerks:   Ben Cressey/Alice Martin Tel: 020 7353 6802

Heather is able to accept instructions on a direct access basis.

© Heather Beckett. Goldsmith Chambers, London EC4Y 7BL. All rights reserved. Regulated by the Bar Standards Board. This site is intended to provide helpful, initial information but it does not constitute legal advice and you should not take action based on this information without first taking advice from me, or another qualified lawyer, about the circumstances of your particular case.