Saadati v. Moorehead: A New Era for Personal Injury Law in Canada
Dairn Shane and Joseph Fearon were successful at the Supreme Court of Canada in a landmark ruling on psychological injuries. Mr. Shane argued the case at all levels of appeal and at trial.
Mr. Saadati suffered serious psychological injuries as a result of multiple car accidents. The Court of Appeal ruled that he was not entitled to any compensation, finding he had to meet a more difficult legal test because his injuries were psychological in nature and not physical. Mr. Shane appealed their ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Justice Brown found that Canadian law includes important rights protecting mental health:
That right is grounded in the simple truth that a person’s mental health — like a person’s physical integrity or property … is an essential means by which that person chooses to live life and pursue goals … And, where mental injury is negligently inflicted, a person’s autonomy to make those choices is undeniably impaired, sometimes to an even greater degree than the impairment which follows a serious physical injury … To put the point more starkly, “[t]he loss of our mental health is a more fundamental violation of our sense of self than the loss of a finger …”
Before this ruling, only people who have a “recognized psychiatric diagnosis” were able to recover compensation for mental injuries. In contrast, that requirement had never existed for someone claiming compensation for physical injuries. Why the difference? Mr. Shane argued successfully that there was no good or fair reason to treat people with mental and physical injuries differently. The court agreed:
This and other mechanisms by which some courts have historically sought to control recovery for mental injury are, in my respectful view, premised upon dubious perceptions of psychiatry and of mental illness in general, which Canadian tort law should repudiate.
The stigma faced by people with mental illness, including that caused by mental injury, is notorious … often unjustly and unnecessarily impeding their participation, so far as possible, in civil society. While tort law does not exist to abolish misguided prejudices, it should not seek to perpetuate them.
In a 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada restored Mr. Saadati’s compensation and clarified that Canadian law will not draw unfair distinctions between mental injuries and physical injuries.
The court’s decision also clarified that in some cases the court may find that someone has been injured without the need for expensive medical expert reports, improving access to justice for people with psychological injuries.
This landmark case removes barriers to compensation for people who suffer psychological injuries and is an important step towards showing Canadians with psychological injuries the equal respect they deserve.
This ruling will also impact other areas of the law, such as employment law and class actions, where courts will now have broader powers to award compensation for mental distress.
The case was strongly defended by the insurance industry in Canada, hiring a team of lawyers and paying for a separate legal team to intervene at the hearing to argue that psychological injuries should be approached with skepticism. Fortunately for accident victims, our highest court rightly rejected their arguments.
You can read the decision here: https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/16664/index.do
You can watch a video of the full hearing here: http://www.scc-csc.ca/case-dossier/info/sum-som-eng.aspx?cas=36703
More information on the case and its broad implications for Canadian law can be found at the following legal publications:
- Canlii Connects: http://canliiconnects.org/en/summaries/45743
- Lawyers Daily: https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/family/articles/3883/scc-says-psychiatric-diagnosis-not-a-prerequisite-to-mental-injury-claims-
- Advocate’s Daily: http://www.advocatedaily.com/Lerners-LLP-Alan-Melamud-physical-and-mental-injury-equal-under-the-law-scc-does-away-with-a-recognizable-psychiatric-illness.html
- Mondaq: http://www.mondaq.com/canada/x/599822/trials+appeals+compensation/Supreme+Court+Of+Canada+Puts+Insurers+On+Notice+In+Saadati+v+Moorhead+Proof+Of+A+Recognized+Psychiatric+Injury+Is+Not+A+Precondition+To+Recovery
- Rudner MacDonald’s employment law blog: http://rudnermacdonald.com/damages/supreme-courts-pronouncement-mental-injury-implications-moral-damages-employment-law/
- McLennan Ross’s blog: https://mross.com/law/Firm/Publications/Email_Alerts/Supreme_Court_of_Canada_Turns_the_Ship_Around_on_Damages_for_Mental_Injury_.cid1962
- Pink Larkin’s legal blog: https://pinklarkin.com/worklawwednesday-mental-distress/
If you or someone you know has suffered a psychological injury, call 1-800-JUSTICE today for a free case evaluation.