Does an Apology Constitute and Admission of Guilt in Dental Negligence?
The British are extremely good at two things:
Queuing and apologising.
For evidence, just look at Hugh Grant’s bumbling character in Four Weddings and Funeral!
When speaking to new clients they often tell me that the dentist in question accused of dental negligence has apologised to them and that this somehow means that the dentist in question is guilty of the most atrocious negligence. But, are there grounds to make a complaint against your dentist?
Not quite so.
In the eyes of the law, an apology doesn’t equate to an admission of liability. Section 2 of the Compensation Act 2006 provides that “an apology, offer of treatment or another redress shall not of itself amount to admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty.”
But what exactly is an apology as this is not defined in the act?
“The apology” is Plato’s version of the speech given by Socrates as he defended himself in 399 BC against the charges of “corrupting the young and by not believing in the gods in who the city believes but in other daimonia that are novel”. The word apology here has its earlier meaning of speaking in defence of a cause or of one’s belief or actions. The Cambridge dictionary definition of an apology is “an act of saying that you are sorry for something wrong you have done”. That an apology does not constitute an admission is one of the first things learnt by law students with cases such as Muir v Glasgow Corporation  UKHL 2.
In Muir, a group of children were having a day out with their Sunday school. They were meant to be having a picnic, but the rain had ruined it. The leader of the trip asked the manager of a tearoom, run by Glasgow Corporation, if she would allow the children to have their picnic on their premises. She agreed and the group entered. In the tearoom, there was a tuck shop, the window to which was located midway along a corridor.
The children had all started to line up along the corridor to buy sweets at the tuck shop. At this time a large tea urn was being carried along the corridor by two adults, to the main room of the tearoom. For a reason which was not explained, the hold of one of the bearers slipped so that tea was spilt and scalded several children (Muir being one of them). The parents of the girl sued Glasgow Corporation, claiming that they owed the child a duty of care and that they had breached this.
The court held that the manageress in charge owed a duty of care, generally, to everyone in the tearoom. However, she did not owe a duty of care to the Sunday school, to take additional precautions to prevent their being injured as a result of her allowing them to enter. So long as the tearoom was run in the same manner as it was day to day, and to the same safety standards, she was not required to take extra steps to prevent the incident which occurred.
It was not reasonably foreseeable that allowing the children to come into the premises would result in one of them being scalded. As such, the incident was put down as an accident which could not have been prevented. There is therefore, clear guidance to suggest that the court will not find any liability in some cases where defendants have apologised or expressed a retrospective wish to have acted differently.