In a recent, unanimous decision out of the Supreme Court of Canada, Saadati v. Moorhead, 2017 SCC 28, Canada’s highest court held that proof of a recognized psychiatric injury is no longer a precondition for the award of damages for mental injury caused by negligence.
In Saadati v. Moorhead, Mr. Saadati was involved in 5 motor vehicle accidents over the course of several years, in which he sustained numerous injuries. The particular accident in question in this case occurred in July 2005, when Mr. Saadati’s tractor-truck was hit by a vehicle driven by the respondent, Mr. Moorhead. Mr. Saadati sought non-pecuniary damages and past wage loss. Mr. Moorhead admitted liability for the accident but opposed the claim for damages.
In 2010, Mr. Saadati was declared mentally incompetent and at trial, he was unable to testify. The trial judge found that evidence from Mr. Saadati’s expert psychologist was not enough to establish a psychological injury. However, the trial judge went on to find that the evidence presented by Mr. Saadati’s family and friends was sufficient proof that he had actually suffered psychological injury. As such, the trial judge awarded Mr. Saadati $100,000 for non-pecuniary damages.
However, the trial judge’s decision was overturned by the British Columbia Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal held that Mr. Saadati had not demonstrated a medically recognized psychiatric or psychological injury to support an award of non-pecuniary damages.
The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, who reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision, finding that there is no requirement to prove that a specific recognized mental illness was sustained. The Supreme Court held that what is needed to establish mental injury is proof of a “serious and prolonged disturbance that rises above ordinary annoyances, anxieties and fears.” The Supreme Court stressed that the most important factors in establishing mental injury are the symptoms and their effect, not a diagnosis. The Supreme Court held:
“A finding of legally compensable mental injury need not rest, in whole or in part, on the claimant proving a recognized psychiatric injury. The law of negligence accords identical treatment to mental and physical injury. Requiring claimants who allege mental injury to prove that their condition meets the threshold of recognizable psychiatric illness, while not imposing a corresponding requirement upon claimants alleging physical injury to show that their condition carries a certain classificatory label, would accord unequal protection to victims of mental injury.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will certainly have a significant impact on future cases where mental injury is claimed. Each case is specific and the particular circumstances of the accident and the claimant will continue to play a large role in determining whether mental injury has been proven. If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s’ negligence, it is always best to seek legal advice regarding your options.