Has the Supreme Court of Canada addressed the stigma against mental illness?
When it comes to injuries sustained as a result of the negligent conduct of another, a trial judge or jury is not concerned with diagnosis of the injury, but rather with symptoms and their effects.
While a correct diagnosis of a mental injury is imperative to a successful recovery of that condition, the adjudication of such an issue does not require such classification, according to the Supreme Court of Canada. The case of Saadati v Moodheadi, 2017 SCC 28, is a milestone for mental injury compensation in personal injury claims. Prior to this decision, the case law in Canada was such that civil claims alleging mental injury could only be successful if expert evidence revealed that the injury in question qualified as a recognized psychiatric or psychological illness or condition. The unanimous Saadati decision, delivered in June of 2017, abolishes that discriminatory obstacle to compensation for victims suffering from mental injuries as a result of somebody else’s negligent conduct.
In Saadati, the claimant’s family members testified that following the accident he had changed. They noted that he now spoke more slowly, was less charming and was no longer happy, outgoing and cheerful. This evidence was sufficient for the court to find that mental injury had been sustained and damages were awarded as such.
The Court took this opportunity to address the requirements of proving alleged mental injury to the requirements of proving alleged physical injury where third party negligence is involved. The requirement of a diagnosis does not exist for plaintiffs attempting to prove physical injury. This inevitably resulted in unequal protection for victims of mental and physical injuries. Proponents of the prior rule for proving mental injury voiced concerns of floodgate issues. This concern was quickly dismissed as untenable by the Court. The SCC stated that the elements to be made out in a negligence action (a duty of care, a breach, damage and a legal and factual causal relationship between the breach and the damage) paired with the threshold for proving mental injury as stated in Mustapha v Culligan of Canada Ltd., 2008 SCC 27,  2 SCR 114, sufficiently protect against unworthy claims.
In its new form, the law regarding mental injury places an onus on the claimant to show that the disturbance is serious and prolonged, surpassing ordinary annoyances, anxieties and fears.
While expert evidence may assist in this determination, it is no longer necessary and the judge or jury is open to use other evidence produced by the plaintiff to determine whether mental injury exists on a balance of probabilities. This mirrors the principle that a negligent defendant need only be shown to have foreseen injury. Such an injury does not need to be a particular psychiatric illness which carries a specific label. The relationship between a reasonably foreseeable mental injury and a diagnostic classification scheme for mental illnesses and conditions is unnecessary and placed an unfair hurdle before plaintiffs suffering from non-physical injury as a result of a third party’s actions.
Mental and physical injury are finally starting to be treated equally in the law of negligence. This decision is a step in the right direction, addressing the stigma that people suffering from mental illness face daily. The primary objective of tort law is to compensate through damages the injuries sustained by an individual to make that person whole again. The SCC’s new articulation of the law relating to mental injuries complies with this objective.
If you believe you have suffered a mental injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, one of our lawyers at Key Murray Law will be pleased to offer you a no-charge initial consultation to talk about your case and any compensation you may be entitled to.
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