How to Prove Mental Distress: An Update

Jun 23, 2017

Did you know that if an employer mistreats an employee either during their employment or at the time of their termination, that employee may be entitled to damages for mental distress? For example, an employee may be entitled to these damages, in addition to wrongful dismissal damages, if they can prove that they suffered mental distress as a result of a particularly insensitive termination.

As is often the case with non-visible injuries, the difficulty arises in proving a mental injury. A recent decision from the highest court in Canada could make things easier for plaintiffs attempting to prove mental injuries in the employment context.

Saadati v Moorhead

In this case, which arose in the context of personal injury, Mr. Saadati was involved in five separate motor vehicle accidents. In the second of these accidents, Mr. Saadati claimed that he had suffered both physical and mental injuries.

Despite the fact that various medical professionals provided evidence at trial, the trial judge ruled that much of this evidence was of no weight, and the medical evidence that was admissible was not sufficient to establish that Mr. Saadati had suffered from a mental injury as a result of the second accident. However, based on the evidence from Mr. Saadati’s family and friends, the trial judge was able to conclude that he had suffered a psychological injury. His family and friends testified on significant changes to Mr. Saadati’s personality after the second accident. On this basis, he awarded $100,000 in damages for mental injury.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal reversed this decision, ruling that the trial judge had erred in awarding these kinds of damages without medical evidence of a recognisable psychiatric illness.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in a unanimous decision, overturned the appellate court’s decision. The Supreme Court clarified that although expert evidence will often be helpful in determining whether the plaintiff has proven a mental injury, it is not a requirement. A plaintiff may bring other evidence to prove that a mental injury has occurred. According to the Supreme Court, what matters is substance (or symptoms), not the label.

Implications for Employment Law

As mentioned above, in certain circumstances, an employee may be entitled to additional damages if they can prove the existence of mental distress. So far, the cases have been split on whether there is a requirement for medical evidence before a finding of mental distress can be made. Although Saadati arose in a different context, it is highly likely that employment lawyers will attempt to rely on Saadati when arguing a claim for aggravated damages.

If you are suffering from mental distress from your employment, or from having been recently terminated, you should consult an employment lawyer to find out about your rights.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

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