BC Court of Appeal

Proof of psychiatric illness not required for mental injury

In the recent Supreme Court of Canada case Saadati v. Moorhead, the Court addressed the issue of whether damages for mental injury require expert evidence supporting a recognized psychiatric or psychological illness.

In terms of background, the appellant brought an action arising from a motor vehicle accident. At trial, the judge found the accident had caused the plaintiff “psychological injuries, including personality change and cognitive difficulties”. The primary issue was that the trial judge reached this conclusion without any identified medical cause. Instead, he based his findings on the evidence of the appellant’s friends and family who testified that the appellant’s personality changed after the accident.

Allowing the appeal of the trial judge’s decision, the British Columbia Court of Appeal noted that there had been no expert evidence of a medically recognized psychiatric or psychological injury.

On appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Court restored the trial judge’s original award. The Court found a legally compensable mental injury did not have to rest on the claimant proving a medically recognized psychiatric illness. The Court determined that, while an accurate diagnosis is important, triers of fact adjudicating claims of mental injury were only concerned with symptoms and their effects. No relationship is required between a reasonably mental injury and a diagnostic classification scheme. Instead, plaintiffs only need to establish that the defendant foresaw the injury.

While the Court noted that expert evidence can assist in determining the existence of a mental injury, in the absence of psychiatric diagnosis, it is open to triers of fact to rely on other evidence which indicates the claimant has a mental injury. Accordingly, it was open for the trial judge to rely on the unchallenged testimony of the appellant’s friends and family.

This decision is a significant departure from the previous requirement that claimant’s provide expert medical evidence to substantiate claims.

The full text of the case can be read here.

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