A unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision has offered hope to victims of mental injury, and the personal injury lawyers that represent them.
In Saadati v. Moorhead, Justice Russell Brown “broke with 600 years of common law and held that both forms of personal injury – physical and mental – must enjoy equal protection,” wrote University of Alberta Faculty of Law professor Mitchell McInnes in an opinion piece for the Edmonton Journal. “Consequently … compensation is now available if a careless act causes “serious and prolonged” psychiatric damage.”
Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, victims of mental injury were required to prove the existence of a medically recognized psychiatric injury. Saadati v. Moorhead will ease that burden.
Saadati v. Moorhead came up through the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the British Columbia Court of Appeal. The case dealt with injuries sustained by Mr. Saadati in a 2005 car accident, his second of five such incidents between 2003 and 2009. He was declared mentally incompetent in 2010.
Mr. Saadati’s vehicle was struck by a Hummer driven by Mr. Moorhead, who admitted liability but objected to Mr. Saadati’s claim for past wage loss and non-pecuniary damages. A lower court judge found that testimony delivered by Mr. Saadati’s friends and family did enough to establish proof of psychological injury, even though evidence provided by an expert psychologist did not. The judge awarded Mr. Saadati $100,000 in non-pecuniary damages.
This decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal, which found that Mr. Saadati’s personal injury lawyers “had not demonstrated a medically recognized psychiatric or psychological injury to support the award of non-pecuniary damages,” wrote D. Lynne Watt of Gowling WLG for Lexology.
In 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed the British Columbia Court of Appeal’s ruling and found that “there is no requirement to prove that a specific recognized mental illness was sustained by the claimant,” Watt explained. Rather, the court found that “what is needed to establish mental injury is a serious and prolonged disturbance that rises above ordinary annoyances, anxieties and fears.”
Put simply, the Supreme Court’s decision on Saadati v. Moorhead will contribute to the more equal treatment of physical and mental injuries. Personal injury lawyers have long advocated for more parity in the treatment of these two related but inherently different forms of pain and suffering, and the ruling is a step in the right direction.
“By itself, of course, Saadati v. Moorhead will not eliminate prejudicial attitudes,” wrote Mitchell McInnes. “Nevertheless, by applying the same rules to both physical harm and psychiatric damage, the court’s decision will help to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.”