The Supreme Court of Canada has found an injured claimant does not need to have a diagnosed psychological/psychiatric injury in order to recover for a mental injury sustained in an accident.
In Saadati v. Moorhead, 2017 SCC 28, the claimant was injured in a series of five motor vehicle accidents but claimed the second accident caused his mental injuries. At trial, the judge held that he had in fact suffered a mental injury as a result of the second accident despite not being provided with any expert evidence to that effect. Instead, the trial judge’s findings were based on the testimony of the claimant’s friends and family who testified that his personality had changed for the worse following the accident.
The Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge holding that the claimant had not demonstrated by expert evidence any medically recognized psychological or psychiatric injury.
When the case finally made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, all nine Supreme Court Justices agreed to overturn the Court of Appeal. Brown J. writing for the unanimous Court found that establishing a compensable mental injury need not rest, in whole or in part, on the claimant proving a recognized psychiatric injury. Because the law treats mental and physical injuries the same the Court found that requiring a claimant to prove that a mental injury meets a recognized psychiatric illness when there is no corresponding requirement that a physical injury fall into a classificatory category would be treating those with mental injuries unfairly. So long as the claimant is able to prove the elements of negligence (duty of care, a breach, damage and a causal relationship between the breach and the damage) he will be able to recover for a mental injury.
This case places an even higher burden on the ever busy claims adjuster to be very cognizant of all medical documentation on file including clinical notes and records of treating physicians. It may be difficult to determine whether or not a claimant may assert a mental injury if they have not provided any expert reports evidencing a psychological or psychiatric diagnosis. Be sure to read all medical reports that are available carefully for allegations of changed mood or personality especially if provided in collateral interviews with a claimant’s family members to assess whether or not a viable mental injury claim may be advanced down the road.