Mental Injury and Negligence Law – Recognized Psychiatric Illness Not Required

August 31, 2017 | Sandra L. Hawes, KC

In the recent decision of Saadati v. Moorhead, 2017 SCC 28 (CanLII), the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the argument that claims for mental injury are subject to a different test than claims for physical injury, holding that the law of negligence accords identical treatment to mental and physical injury.

As stated by Brown J. for the Court, “Recovery for mental injury in negligence depends upon the claimant satisfying the criteria applicable to any successful action in negligence: a duty of care, a breach, damage, and a legal and factual causal relationship between the breach and the damage. Canadian negligence law recognizes that a duty exists at common law to take reasonable care to avoid causing foreseeable mental injury, and that this cause of action protects a right to be free from negligent interference with one’s mental health. The ordinary duty of care analysis is therefore to be applied to claims for negligently caused mental injury. In particular, liability for mental injury must be confined to claims which satisfy the proximity analysis within the duty of care framework and the remoteness inquiry.”

The Court held that a claimant need not prove that they suffer from a recognized psychiatric illness in order to be successful in recovery of damages for mental injury.  There is therefore no requirement for a claimant to adduce evidence of a psychiatric diagnosis; rather, the trier of fact will be concerned with the symptoms and their effects.  As stated by Brown J, “The trier of fact’s inquiry should be directed to the level of harm that the claimant’s particular symptoms represent, not to whether a label could be attached to them.”

While expert evidence can assist in determining whether or not a mental injury has been demonstrated, where a psychiatric diagnosis is unavailable, the trier of fact can find on other evidence that a mental injury has been proven.  Therefore, when mental injury is alleged, counsel on both sides of a claim should assess the case based on the symptoms of mental injury and the effects these symptoms have on the claimant rather than solely focusing on a psychiatric diagnosis or lack thereof.


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