Saadati v Moorhead
The recent decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in Saadati v Moorhead may signal a change in how damages are awarded in obstetrical cases. Prior to the Saadati decision, a parent who’s child suffered a birth injury had no legal right to claim for the pain and suffering the parent has experienced unless the parent had been diagnosed with a recognized psychiatric illness arising from the birth of his or her child. The recent decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in Saadati v Moorhead may signal a change in how damages are awarded in obstetrical cases. Prior to the Saadati decision, a parent who’s child suffered a birth injury had no legal right to claim for the pain and suffering the parent has experienced unless the parent had been diagnosed with a recognized psychiatric illness arising from the birth of his or her child.
Mr. Saadati was involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in a change in his personality. Although he was not diagnosed with a recognizable psychiatric injury or illness, the trial court nevertheless awarded him damages for the mental injury he suffered. The trial decision was overturned at the Court of Appeal level on the basis that, while Mr. Saadati did have a mental injury arising from the accident, this did not reach the level of a diagnosis of a recognizable psychiatric injury.
The Supreme Court of Canada overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal and reinstated the decision from the trial court. The Supreme Court held that it was not necessary for a plaintiff to establish a recognizable psychiatric diagnosis for the injuries arising from the accident. The court held that “tort law protects persons from negligent interference with their mental health, there is no legally cognizable right to happiness. Claimants must, therefore, show much more - that the disturbance suffered by the claimant is “serious and prolonged and rise[s] above the ordinary annoyances, anxiety and fears” that come with living in a civil society”.
The question which arises from the Saadati decision in the context of obstetrical malpractice cases, is whether the Saadati decision opens the door for parents to be able to advance claims for injuries to their mental health arising from the birth injury suffered by their child. The Supreme Court of Canada identified that the analysis should follow the usual analysis used in tort cases. There are four things that a plaintiff must establish in a successful claim:
(a) that the defendant owed a duty of care to the person suing;
(b) that the defendant breached that duty by failing to observe the applicable standard of care;
(c) that the person suing sustained damage; and
(d) that the damage was caused in fact and in law by the defendant’s breach of the standard of care.
In an obstetrical case the main issues in contention would be whether the parents suffered a mental injury that is something more than the existence of mere psychological upset. The mental disturbance must be serious and prolonged and must rise above the ordinary annoyances, anxieties and fears that all parents experience.
It remains to be seen whether Canadian courts will accept the argument in support of the parents’ recovery for mental distress in birth injury cases. It is hoped that the courts will be prepared to compensate parents for the very significant consequences to their life, and to their family, as a result of the birth injury suffered by their child.
Written by Joe Miller, QC