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Proving Psychological Damages In a Personal Injury Claim

You have been injured in an accident that is not your fault yet you have no physical injuries. You do however have ongoing emotional or psychological issues. Do you have to have a recognizable psychiatric illness in order to be compensated for your issues? Do you have to have doctor show that you meet a set criteria or diagnosis in order to recover any damages? The answer to these questions now is “NO”.

A recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada has placed the test for proving mental and psychological injuries on the same footing as the test for proving physical injuries.

In June of 2017, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Saadati v. Moorehead 2017 SCC 28. At the heart of this decision was the principle that a finding of legally compensable mental injury does not have to rest on the injured party proving a recognized psychiatric injury. That is, there is no requirement for an injured party to obtain a formal recognized psychiatric diagnosis in order to prove their claim for a compensable injury.

Mr. Saadati was involved in 5 motor vehicle accident between January 2003 and March 2009. He commenced his claim after the second accident which occurred on July 5, 2005. He suffered chronic pain since the first accident and by 2010 was declared mentally incompetent. At trial the Judge ruled that Mr. Saadati had not proven any physical injury arising from the accident but that he had suffered psychological injuries including a personality change and that he had experienced some cognitive difficulties. The Judge’s decision was based not on any medical evidence but on testimony from Mr. Saadati’s friends and family that after the accident his personality had changed for the worse.

The ruling was appealled to the British Columbia Court of Appeal where that Court held that psychological injury could only be proven through expert medical evidence. That is, only injuries confirmed by way of an established psychiatric diagnosis would allow a psychologically or mentally injured person to obtain a damage award in a personal injury case.

This ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada.

First, the Court reaffirmed that:

  1. Injured parties do not have to have both physical and mental injury in order to succeed in a claim for damages for mental injuries. That means that a claim for pure psychological injury can be pursued even if you don’t have any other physical injuries such as whiplash or broken bones.
  2. The test for establishing physical injuries is the same test for establishing psychological or mental injuries. There is no difference or separate standard between the two.

Second, the Court recognized that sometimes mental injuries may in fact be more serious and more harmful to a person’s wellbeing and functionality than pure physical injuries.

Lastly, the Court recognized that would be unfair to require a formal psychological diagnosis for persons with mental injuries were no such requirement is needed for anyone who sustains physical injuries.

Accordingly, in order to prove a claim for mental injury an injured party must only prove that the injury suffered is “serious and prolonged and rises above the ordinary annoyances, anxieties and fears that come with living in civil society”. There must also be a causal connection between the injury and the accident itself, that is, the accident must be the cause of the injury.

While obtaining an expert’s opinion about a psychological injury and its cause is not an essential requirement for proving your claim, it will help your case. Further, the testimony from those who observe you in your everyday routine and who may notice any changes post accident will now become an important element in helping you prove your claim.

Overall, this decision is an important step in helping those with mental injuries obtain compensation for their losses.

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