In Saadati v Moorehead, 2017 SCC 28 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a claimant is not required to prove a recognized psychiatric injury in order for a Court to award damages for mental injuries caused by a defendant’s negligence.

The Plaintiff, Mr. Saadati, was involved in a series of five motor vehicle accidents between 2003 and 2009. The accident at issue in this appeal occurred in 2005. Mr. Saadati’s vehicle sustained serious damage, but he appeared uninjured. Due to this accident Mr. Saadati brought an action for general damages and past loss of income.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia found that Mr. Saadati failed to demonstrate any physical injuries, but did find that the accident caused mental injuries, including personality changes and cognitive difficulties. This finding was not based on an identified medical cause and was instead based on testimony from Mr. Saadati’s friends and family. The trial judge subsequently awarded Mr. Saadati $100,000.00 in general damages for his mental injuries.

On appeal, the British Columbia Court of Appeal reversed the trial decision and found the trial judge erred by awarding damages for a mental injury when Mr. Saadati had failed to prove a medically recognized psychiatric or psychological illness or condition.

The Supreme Court of Canada reversed the decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal and restored the decision of the trial judge, Justice Brown, writing for a unanimous Court, clarified that a finding of a legally compensable mental injury is not required to be based on, in whole or in part, on a claimant proving that they suffered a recognized psychiatric injury.

Instead, recovery for mental injuries is to be based on the criteria applicable to any action in negligence. In other words, a claimant need only prove a (1) duty of care; (2) a breach; (3) damage; and (4) a legal and factual causal relationship between the breach and the damage.

To successfully prove a compensable mental injury a claimant must show that the disturbance is serious and prolonged and rises above the ordinary annoyances, anxieties, and fears that come with living in a civil society. A claimant may adduce expert evidence, but in situations where a psychiatric diagnosis is unavailable, a Court may look to other evidence adduced by the claimant to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that a compensable mental injury has occurred.

A defendant is still permitted to call expert evidence calling into question the existence of a mental injury in order to rebut a claimant’s claim.

The Court also spoke at length about the need to treat claims for mental and physical injuries equally. The Court stated that the concept that something more is required in a claim for mental injury is unfounded and based on “dubious perceptions of, and postures towards, psychiatry and mental illness in general.” Instead, the Court directed triers of fact to focus on the harm caused by a claimant’s particular symptoms and not on whether such symptoms have a label or diagnosis attached to them.

Saadati v Moorehead will have a significant impact on insurers and the way in which cases dealing with a claimant seeking recovery for mental injuries are handled.

In general, this decision may make it easier for claimants to succeed in claiming damages for mental injury. It may also result in an increase in the number of actions in which mental injuries are claimed.

This is particularly the case in Alberta given the Minor Injury Regulation, Alta Reg 123/2004, which currently caps recovery for “minor injuries” occurred during 2017 at $5,020. The definition of “minor injury” in Minor Injury Regulation does not include mental injuries and this fact, combined with this decision, is likely to cause an increase in the number of claimants seeking recovery for mental injuries.

In order to defend against such claims, it will now become more important for insurers to obtain expert medical evidence regarding a claimant’s alleged mental injuries, even in situations where the claimant has not led any medical evidence and/or has not alleged any recognizable mental injury such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety.

For more information on this topic please contact a member of Parlee McLaws LLP’s Insurance Litigation Team.

This post is intended to provide general information concerning developments in the law and is not intended to provide legal advice in respect of any particular situation.