Supreme Court of Canada says psych report not required to recover damages for mental injury: Saadati v. Moorhead.

by John McKiggan

The Supreme Court of Canada released and interesting decision today ( Saadati v. Moorhead) that will be relevant to anyone who claims to have suffered psychological injuries as a result of car accident, medical malpractice, or any other type of personal injury claim.

The plaintiff Saadati was injured in a motor vehicle collision. He sued the other defendants in negligence seeking compensation for income loss and nonpecuniary damages (pain and suffering). The plaintiff claims he suffered psychological injuries in the accident that resulted in personality changes and cognitive deficits that made it difficult to concentrate.

However, at the trial the plaintiff did not call any evidence from medical experts to indicate that he had ever been diagnosed with any type of psychiatric illness. Instead, the plaintiff relied upon testimony from friends and family members who said that after the car accident Saadati’s personality had changed.

The defendants argued that based on the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2008 decision in Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada LTD the plaintiff needed to provide evidence that he suffered from a “recognizable psychiatric illness” before he would be eligible to receive compensation for his alleged psychological injuries.

The plaintiff was awarded compensation at trial in part for his psychological injuries. However, on appeal, the Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge’s ruling based on the lack of expert medical opinion evidence indicating that Saadati suffered a “recognizable psychiatric illness”.

However, today the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that requiring a diagnosis by a psychiatrist would hold victims of mental injuries to a higher standard of proof than victims of physical injuries.

The court stated that a psychiatric opinion may be relevant to diagnosis and treatment for persons suffering from psychological injuries. But the courts are concerned with cause and effect. In other words, what harms and losses were caused by the car collision.

It is not necessary for a plaintiff who suffered pain after an accident to produce a medical expert to testify as to nature and diagnosis of their injury in order to receive compensation. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it was not necessary to produce expert psychiatric evidence in order to establish that a plaintiff had suffered psychological injuries.

The court found that the trial judge accepted as fact evidence that showed the plaintiff suffered a serious and prolonged disruption of his lifestyle that went beyond mere emotional upset or distress. The defendants did not challenge this evidence. Therefore, the trial judge was entitled to accept the plaintiff’s evidence that his symptoms supported compensation for a mental injury even though there was no expert evidence on this issue.

The court stated in paragraph 31 of its decision:

“Confining compensable mental injury to conditions that are identifiable with reference to these diagnostic tools is, however, inherently suspect as a matter of legal methodology. While, for treatment purposes and accurate diagnosis it is obviously important, a trier of fact adjudicating a claim of mental injury is not concerned with diagnosis, but with symptoms and their effects… Put simply, there is no necessary relationship between reasonably foreseeable mental injury and a diagnostic classification scheme. As Thomas J. observed van Soest (at para. 100), a negligent defendant need only be shown to have foreseen injury, and not a particular psychiatric illness that comes with its own label. In other words, the trier of facts’ inquiry should be directed to the level of harm that the claimants particular symptoms represent, not to whether a label could be attached to them. Downloading the task of assessing legally recoverable mental injury to the DSM and ICD therefore imports arbitrary control mechanism upon recovery for mental injury, conditioning recovery not upon any legally principled basis directed to the alleged injury, but upon conformity with a legally irrelevant classification scheme designed to facilitate identification of particular conditions.”

This is a significant win for victims of psychological injuries. While many victims of car accidents or medical malpractice or institutional sexual abuse suffer significant psychological trauma sometimes it is difficult to get appropriate treatment or find medical experts willing to assist in their treatment or testify at trial.

The Saadati case now means that plaintiffs can pursue a claim for compensation for psychological injuries even in the absence medical evidence and a specific diagnosis of a recognized psychiatric illness.

 

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