Recovery for mental and physical injury must be uniform

This month, the SCC held that mental injury claims do not depend on proving a recognized psychiatric illness. This is consistent with recovery for physical injury, which, as a matter of law, is not conditioned upon a claimant adducing expert diagnostic evidence in support.

The appeal arose from a motor vehicle collision in New Westminster, BC.

The appellant suffered psychological injuries, including social changes and cognitive difficulties. His friends and family testified that his personality had changed dramatically, leading to a deterioration of his personal relationships.

The trial judge awarded $100,000 in non-pecuniary damages on the strength of their testimony.

The decision was reversed by the British Columbia Court of Appeal because the mental injury suffered was not a recognized psychiatric illness advanced by expert medical opinion.

The SCC restored the trial judge’s decision, holding that the Court has never required injured persons to prove a specific psychiatric diagnosis as a precondition to recovery for mental injury. It held that such mechanisms designed to restrict damages for mental injury are premised upon dubious perceptions of psychiatry and of mental illness in general.

It is the symptom, rather than the label found in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM”), that form the substance in claims of mental injury. No necessary relationship exists between reasonably foreseeable mental injury and a diagnostic classification scheme.

The required components of a negligence claim — whether for physical or mental personal injury — remain robust barriers to trivial suits.