Mental Health Issues are Up During COVID-19. Can Personal Injury Lawyers Help?

As personal injury lawyers, it is our job to help seriously injured accident victims access compensation for their pain and suffering. During our decades in practice, the team at Will Davidson LLP has come to understand that mental and emotional injuries – including conditions like PTSD and depression – can be just as damaging as physical ones.

Unfortunately, it can be more difficult for a plaintiff experiencing mental and emotional injuries to secure compensation than a person suffering, for example, serious orthopaedic injuries. This is in part due to optics; it’s easier for a judge or jury to empathize with an injury victim in a wheelchair than someone who is battling depression caused by their accident. It is also due to longstanding societal biases against individuals suffering from mental and emotional health problems.

Saadati v. Moorhead

Prior to the landmark 2017 case Saadati v. Moorhead, personal injury plaintiffs seeking damages for mental health issues were compelled to prove that their injuries were “serious and prolonged” and that they rose above the “ordinary emotional disturbances that will occasionally afflict any member of civil society without violating his or her right to be free of negligently caused mental injury,” per the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision. In other words, plaintiffs were asked to prove, through expert testimony, that they met a certain threshold of recognized psychiatric illness to recover damages.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Saadati v. Moorhead was an important step toward closing the gaps between victims of mental and physical injuries. The court found that there was “no cogent basis … for erecting distinct rules which operate to preclude liability in cases of mental injury, but not in cases of physical injury.”

The decision further made clear that this double standard put plaintiffs with mental injuries at an unfair disadvantage:

“…requiring claimants who allege one form of personal injury (mental) to prove that their condition meets the threshold of “recognizable psychiatric illness”, while not imposing a corresponding requirement upon claimants alleging another form of personal injury (physical) to show that their condition carries a certain classifactory label, is inconsistent with prior statements of this Court, among other. It accords unequal – that is, less – protection to victims of mental injury.”

As we explained in a blog published at the time of the decision, the ruling ‘will contribute to the more equal treatment of physical and mental injuries,’ a change that personal injury lawyers had long been calling for.

Mental Health Injuries and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The decision in Saadati v. Moorhead was delivered at an opportune time. As some personal injury lawyers have begun to realize, and as many more will learn in the coming years, the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for already struggling injury victims.

In early June, the Toronto Sun reported that some personal injury lawyers in Ontario are seeing a spike in mental health disability claims related to, or exasperated by, the pandemic. Victims of serious physical injuries, even those who had not previously reported mental repercussions, have found themselves isolated and cut off from family and friends by social distancing measures. Individuals suffering from pre-existing mental health challenges have faced daunting new hurdles.

“We are only scratching the surface in our understanding of how this pandemic has impacted Canadians’ mental health,” one personal injury lawyer told the Sun. “This abrupt and overwhelming change to our way of life will no doubt have a profound impact on the number of disability claims filed across the country.”

“People with significant mental health issues often cannot fulfill their employment duties. They must take disability,” the lawyer added. “I’ve seen an increase in long-term disability claims. The ones I see are the ones being refused. Long-term is tough, and people seek legal help.”

Contact Will Davidson LLP

At Will Davidson LLP, our personal injury lawyers have experienced representing clients in a broad range of personal injury claims, including those involving mental health injuries. To learn more about how we can help, contact us today and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. An experienced member of our team will review your case, lay out your legal options, and explain the next steps on your road to recovery. Reach out today to learn more.

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