On June 2, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada released a unanimous decision on compensation for psychological injuries (Saadati v. Moorhead, 2017 SCC 28). It was a civil lawsuit from B.C. involving a motor vehicle collision.
The trial judge found that the accident caused psychological injuries to the plaintiff. The decision did not rest on an identified medical cause or expert evidence, but was based on the testimony of his friends and family to the effect that his personality had changed for the worse after the accident.
The B.C. Court of Appeal allowed an appeal because the plaintiff did not present expert evidence of a medically recognized psychiatric or psychological injury.
The Supreme Court of Canada disagreed:
A finding of legally compensable mental injury need not rest, in whole or in part, on the claimant proving a recognized psychiatric injury. The law of negligence accords identical treatment to mental and physical injury. Requiring claimants who allege mental injury to prove that their condition meets the threshold of recognizable psychiatric illness, while not imposing a corresponding requirement upon claimants alleging physical injury to show that their condition carries a certain classificatory label, would accord unequal protection to victims of mental injury…
Furthermore, confining compensable mental injury to conditions that are identifiable with reference to psychiatric diagnostic tools is inherently suspect as a matter of legal methodology. While, for treatment purposes, an accurate diagnosis is obviously important, a trier of fact adjudicating a claim of mental injury is not concerned with diagnosis, but with symptoms and their effects … 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.”
This decision calls into question the legality of the WSIB’s proposed policy on when it will compensate for chronic mental stress disabilities when the law changes in 2018. The proposed policy states:
“Before any traumatic mental stress or chronic mental stress claim can be adjudicated, there must be a diagnosis in accordance with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) …”
The WSIB requires a diagnosis and the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that you cannot require a diagnosis, it is the symptoms and their effects that are important.
This is an important consideration to raise in the ongoing WSIB policy consultation. The consultation deadline for comments on the WSIB’s proposed policy is July 7th .
- Singleton, Antony. 2017 May 10. “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly: The WSIB’s Draft Chronic Mental Stress Policy.” Just Compensation (blog)
- IWO Fact sheet. 2016 Nov. 15. Workplace Chronic Mental Stress Claims