Breakingbury vs Croad, a 2021 case, resulted in a judgement that holds important implications for the legal responsibilities of dental practice owners in the UK.

In Breakingbury vs Croad, the court ruled in favour of the patient, Mrs. Lynda Breakingbury, who had received negligent bridgework from three associate dentists over a period of several years. However, two of the three associate dentists were no longer registered with the General Dental Council (GDC), were not UK residents, and had no evidence of indemnity cover. As a result, the claimant had no recourse against the associate dentists or the means to seek financial compensation for corrective treatment.

In this particular case, the court passed the judgements of vicarious liability (VL) and non-delegable duty of care (NDDOC) against the retired dental practice owner, Mr. John Croad, despite him having sold the practice nine years prior. Although this ruling is not a binding precedent, it is likely to have persuasive influence on future cases.

Vicarious liability holds that practice owners may be held accountable for the negligent actions of associate dentists working at their practice. Similarly, under NDDOC, practice owners can be held responsible for the negligence of a third party from the time they delegated the work, even if it occurred years earlier. However, while vicarious liability is well-defined in most industries, it becomes less clear-cut in the dental field.

The confusion arises because many dental associates are not employees of the practice but instead work as self-employed individuals. In the past, practice owners could argue that associates were independent contractors, and claims would typically be directed at the individual dentist rather than the practice owner. However, the Breakingbury vs Croad case suggests that future vicarious liability claims may not be as straightforward.

Even when vicarious liability cannot be proven, the obligations of non-delegable duty of care may still hold the practice owner responsible, as this responsibility cannot be legally passed on. Therefore, practice owners must take steps to protect themselves against these risks. Here are four simple steps to better safeguard against vicarious liability and NDDOC claims:


1 – Check and update indemnity policies

Practice owners should review their current indemnity policies to ensure they are covered for vicarious liability and claims related to non-delegable duty of care. If unsure, consider discussing with your indemnity provider and obtaining additional practice insurance to cover these aspects.

2 – Ensure robust contractual obligations are in place

When taking on new associates, establish solid contractual commitments that require appropriate indemnity cover, which should be renewed annually. Additionally, ensure that your indemnity covers the risk of vicarious liability claims against the associates.

3 – Maintain contact details

Retain contact information for all clinicians working at the practice, including after they leave. This enables prompt traceability in case a claim arises relating to an associate who is no longer working at the practice.

4 – Seek legal advice where necessary

When in doubt, consider seeking legal advice. Dental Defence Society provides comprehensive dento-legal advice to our members whenever needed, ensuring you have the guidance necessary to navigate potential legal challenges.

Taking action now ensures that dentists and patients are fully protected, mitigating the risk of reputational damage and costly compensation claims. At Dental Defence Society, we are here to help. We offer affordable, bespoke, and secure indemnity packages without the need for run-off cover.

For a tailored quote, fill in our online application form, call us on 020 8242 6226 or email us at

Even if you are not yet due to renew your indemnity, you can register your interest, and we will be happy to contact you once you are ready to renew.