Canada: La Cour suprême du Canada place sur un pied d'égalité les préjudices physiques et mentaux

Last Updated: July 17 2017
Article by Jo-Anne Demers and Frédéric Pagé

Le plus haut tribunal du pays vient de rendre un jugement qui fera couler beaucoup d'encre dans les années à venir, certainement du moins, sur la nécessité de la preuve d'expert pour l'indemnisation d'un préjudice mental.

« En cette époque d'essor rapide des connaissances médicales, y compris en matière psychiatrique, il ne serait pas raisonnable d'astreindre les tribunaux à appliquer en droit une distinction entre préjudice physique et préjudice [mental], distinction [...] qui pourrait, sous peu, être complètement dépassée. »

Dans l'arrêt Saadati c. Moorhead, la Cour suprême met fin à plusieurs décennies de scepticisme vis-à-vis les demandes d'indemnisation d'un préjudice mental et s'assure que celles-ci ne soient plus tributaires des courants de pensée en vogue dans la psychiatrie moderne.

La cour s'assure également de placer le demandeur qui allègue un préjudice mental sur le même pied d'égalité que celui alléguant un préjudice physique. Elle affirme que des règles de preuve différentes positionneraient nos cours de justice dans une situation délicate et offrirait des protections inégales, voire bien moindres, aux citoyens souffrant de ce type de préjudice.

Les faits

Dans l'affaire en cause, Monsieur Saadati a été victime de multiples accidents de la route. Chacun d'eux lui causant des douleurs chroniques et affectant son humeur d'une façon marquée. En effet, suivant le deuxième accident, Saadati aurait vécu des préjudices psychologiques d'une telle ampleur qu'il aurait maintenant un trouble de la personnalité et des problèmes cognitifs importants, le rendant donc invalide. Un montant de 100 000 $ lui avait par conséquent été octroyé par le juge de première instance sans qu'il ait eu besoin de faire témoigner un expert ou de présenter un diagnostic d'une maladie reconnue en psychiatrie.

Du côté du défendeur et des intervenants impliqués, dont le Bureau d'assurance du Canada, on prétendait que la preuve d'un expert est primordiale afin de s'assurer de ne pas tomber dans la subjectivité et dans l'arbitraire. De plus, selon eux la possibilité de présenter une demande sans diagnostic précis d'un trouble reconnu en psychiatrie ferait en sorte que les tribunaux canadiens devraient faire face à des demandes anodines et bien souvent, sans fondement juridique.

Décision de la Cour

La Cour suprême n'accepte pas les prétentions de la partie défenderesse et se range plutôt du côté du demandeur. Après avoir fait l'historique jurisprudentiel de l'indemnisation des préjudices mental et corporel en droit canadien et anglais, la cour affirme qu'astreindre les tribunaux aux connaissances médicales actuelles pour dédommager le préjudice mental, alors que ce n'est pas le cas du préjudice corporel, exposerait le demandeur au risque de voir sa demande pourtant bien fondée en droit rejetée. De surcroit, l'affaire Mustapha avait déjà établi que les demandes frivoles ne seraient pas indemnisées par les tribunaux canadiens. En effet, une simple contrariété ainsi qu'une fragilité anormale devant les angoisses et craintes ordinaires inhérentes à la vie en société ne sont clairement pas suffisantes pour valoir indemnisation.

La décision Saadati vient donc tirer un trait sur toute différence qui pouvait exister dans l'administration de la preuve entre un préjudice mental et un préjudice physique. Dorénavant, les critères applicables pour évaluer les deux types de préjudices seront exactement les mêmes. En aucun cas, une expertise ou un diagnostic psychiatrique spécifique ne seront exigés. Il faudra, en plus de remplir toutes les exigences jurisprudentielles relatives à l'obligation de diligence que le préjudice soit grave et de longue durée.

Fardeau de la preuve

Cependant, en dépit d'un certain assouplissement, il demeure indiscutable qu'une expertise médicale aura toujours un effet rassurant pour le juge des faits. Ultimement, la décision lui revient : il doit donc déterminer, selon la balance des probabilités, si les prétentions du demandeur sont crédibles. Par conséquent, bien qu'il ne soit pas exigé de produire une expertise ou d'avoir un diagnostic psychiatrique précis, cela peut certainement aider à la prépondérance de la preuve. L'expert, qu'il témoigne sur un trouble psychiatrique répertorié ou non, peut tout de même informer le tribunal des conséquences psychiatriques subies par le demandeur.

Il est également important de souligner que malgré l'omission du demandeur de produire une expertise, il demeure loisible au défendeur de produire la sienne. Cette dernière pourra éclairer la cour sur toute allégation soutenue par la défense et réfuter celles de la demande.

Parce qu'au final, bien qu'on ait remis les pendules à l'heure sur la question des préjudices, il est crucial de garder à l'esprit que les règles concernant le fardeau de la preuve, elles, demeurent inchangées. En effet, la victoire reviendra toujours à la partie ayant la preuve la plus solide et convaincante.

Les auteurs aimeraient remercier Vincent Savard, Stagiaire en Marketing, pour sa contribution

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Jo-Anne Demers
Frédéric Pagé
 
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