Case Summary: Saadati v. Moorhead
Defence + Indemnity
For psychological/psychiatric injury, the plaintiff must proffer evidence that the injury is a recognizable illness.
Saadati v. Moorhead, 2015 BCCA 393, per Frankel, J.
I. FACTS AND ISSUES
Appeal from an award of $100,000 for non-pecuniary damages for a psychological injury arising out of a motor vehicle accident. While trial judge rejected the plaintiff’s claim that he sustained a brain injury, the judge found he was a “changed man” based on testimony from family and friends. Even though the plaintiff did not plead or argue for damages for a psychological injury, the trial judge still awarded it.
The plaintiff had been in five motor accidents by the time of trial. This trial was in regards to the second accident. Prior to the trial, the Plaintiff was declared mentally incompetent and his action was prosecuted by a litigation guardian on his behalf.
Defendants appealed on three grounds. First, that Mr. Saadati was not entitled to damages for a psychological injury as he did not prove a recognizable psychiatric illness. Second, that the trial judge erred in finding the injuries from the second accident were indivisible from the first one. And third, that the damage award was excessive.
II. HELD: Appeal Allowed, award set aside: Absent proof of a medical condition, damages cannot be awarded for psychological/psychiatric injury
1. Mr. Saadati was held not entitled to damages for psychological injury
(a) The trial judge stated in his decision that “although the particular medical cause of the psychological injury is not known, the testimony of the plaintiff’s family and friends leads to a finding that the…accident…caused a psychological injury.”
(i) The trial judge did not refer to any authorities dealing with when the psychological or emotional effects of an accident are compensable.
(ii) The appellate court cited multiple cases standing for the proposition that to claim for damages for psychological injury, it must be a recognizable psychiatric illness.
(b) The plaintiff argued that there was medical evidence at trial to support the finding that he suffers from a recognizable psychiatric condition.
(i) The trial judge was not satisfied that the plaintiff had proven he suffered from a medical condition on that evidence. The Court cannot make a finding based on evidence that the trial judge was not prepared to make.
(ii) Absent expert medical opinion evidence, a judge is not qualified to say what is or is not an illness.
2. The Court did not find it necessary to address the remaining grounds of appeal.
III. COMMENTARY: Although not advanced as an independent ground of appeal, Justice Frankel did comment on the fact that the trial judge decided the case on a ground neither pleaded nor argued. Justice Frankel looked at both BC and Saskatchewan cases that held that it is improper for a judge to decide a case on issues not argued, and is in fact an error of law. Justice Frankel noted that once the trial judge turned his mind to this new ground, he should have notified counsel that he was prepared to consider a claim not pleaded. This would give the plaintiff the opportunity to amend his pleadings, and the defendants an opportunity to call further evidence and make further submissions. In that way, the trial judge would have been aware of the authorities that were brought to the attention of the Appellate court.