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Ash v. N.Y. Univ. Dental Ctr. - 164 A.D.2d 366, 564 N.Y.S.2d 308 (App. Div. 1990)

Rule:

Even an agreement that clearly and unambiguously attempts to exempt a party only from liability for ordinary negligence will not be enforced by the courts of New York if it is found to violate public policy either by way of conflicting with an overriding public interest or because it constitutes an abuse of a special relationship between the parties, or both. 

Facts:

The dentist advised the patient that he could obtain his dental work for less money if the patient went to the university dental clinic where the dentist was an instructor, and that he would oversee and try to be present during the patient's treatment. Prior to receiving treatment, the patient was required to sign a form releasing the clinic and the dentist from any and all liability, including negligence, sustained as a result of treatment at the dental clinic. The patient was injured as a result of his aspiration of two dental crowns during treatment that became lodged in his right lung and required surgical removal and he filed suit for dental malpractice against the dentist and dental clinic. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the action. The patient appealed, asserting that enforcement of the agreement releasing the dentist and the dental clinic from liability violated public policy.

Issue:

Did the enforcement of the release form violate public policy?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court concluded that the agreement violated public policy and should not be enforced. The exculpatory agreement implicated both the state's interest in the health and welfare of its citizens as well as the special relationship between physician and patient. The state's interest in protecting the welfare of its citizens extended to ensuring that citizens received adequate health care in a safe and professional manner. The state could not sanction a policy that negated the minimal standards of professional care. The court reversed the order of the trial court that granted the motion of the dentist and the dental clinic for summary judgment on patient's action for dental malpractice and ordered the complaint reinstated, without costs.

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