Supreme Court of Canada Weighs In On Proving A Mental Injury
Just this week the Supreme Court of Canada released a landmark decision on the issue of mental harm and mental injury caused by negligence.
The Honourable Supreme Court Justice Brown, for a unanimous court, delivered the decision. The appeal arose from a motor vehicle accident claim in British Columbia. At trial the Plaintiff was awarded damages for mental injury based exclusively on the testimony of lay witnesses. In other words, no medical professional was called to support the Plaintiff’s claim for damages arising from mental injury.
The British Columbia Court of Appeal reversed the ruling, holding that in order to recover damages for such a claim the claimant must prove the injury with expert medical opinion evidence of a recognizable psychiatric illness.
The Supreme Court disagreed, reversed the Court of Appeal’s ruling and restored the Trial Judge’s original award. The Court held that such evidence is not required for a physical injury and that both mental and physical injuries are treated equally under the law. Since there is no corresponding requirement for physical injuries, the court held that such a ruling would accord “unequal – that is, less – protection to victims of mental injury”
The Court went on to reiterate that the claimant still has the burden to prove that any such mental injury is “serious and prolonged and rises above the ordinary annoyances, anxieties and fears that come with living in civil society.”
The Insurance Bureau of Canada participated in the hearing as an intervener, and the Court rejected their argument that mental illness is ‘subjective’ or otherwise easily feigned or exaggerated; and that the law should not provide compensation for ‘trivial matters’ but should foster the growth of ‘tough hides not easily pierced by emotional responses'”
The Supreme Court instead recognized the social stigma and traditional prejudices that have surrounded mental health issues. The Court ruled that: “While tort law does not exist to abolish misguided prejudices, it should not seek to perpetuate them.“
As to why medical expert opinion is not a necessary prerequisite to a mental injury claim, the Court held:
“… 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”
The Court said while this type of evidence may be helpful it isn’t required.
The full decision can be found here: Saadati v. Moorhead.
 Saadati v. Moorhead, 2017 SCC 28, para 36.
 Ibid., at para 37 citing Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada Ltd., 2008 SCC 27,  2 S.C.R. 114, at para 9.
 Ibid., at para 21.
 Ibid., at para 31.