Yesterday I explained the background to the Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada cases. As expected, the Supreme Court issued its decision today. The full text of the lovely (read: short) decision can be be found here: Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada Ltd., 2008 SCC 27.
In a unanimous decision written by McLachlin CJC, the court threw out the appeal against Culligan. The reasons for judgment differed from those of the Ontario Court of Appeal (2006 CanLII 41807), with the Supreme Court finding that the negligence action failed at the remoteness of damages stage.
Here’s a summary:
Duty of care (para 6): As a manufacturer, Culligan owed a duty of care to the consumers of its products as per Donoghue v. Stevenson,  A.C. 562 (HL).
Standard of care (para 7): The court was a little light on its reasons here, because the issue was not seriously argued after the trial level. The trial judge heard evidence that apparently flies were present in the bottling room and (obviously) could get into the bottles in spite of safeguards implemented by the company. Gross.
The Supreme Court concluded simply that Culligan breached the standard of care expected of it by not ensuring that water intended for consumption would be free of contaminants.
Damages (paras 8-10): The SCC reiterated that minor upset, anxiety, disgust, etc. are not recoverable in tort. However, Mr. Mustapha suffered recognizable and serious psychiatric trauma (namely a major depressive disorder coupled with anxiety and phobia). As such, Mr. Mustapha’s psychological injuries were very serious and sufficiently interfered with his quality of life to be recoverable.
Causation (paras 11-18): This was the crux of the SCC’s judgment:
“in order to show that the damage suffered is not too remote to be viewed as legally caused by Culligan’s negligence, Mr. Mustapha must show that it was foreseeable that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer serious injury from seeing the flies in the bottle of water he was about to install. This he failed to do.” (para 18, my emphasis)
The trial judge was mistaken in applying a subjective standard which took into account Mr. Mustapha’s past history, circumstances, and cultural factors.
The chief justice did make one important qualification to the objective standard. At para 17, she writes:
“In those cases where it is proved that the defendant had actual knowledge of the plaintiff’s particular sensibilities, the ordinary fortitude requirement need not be applied strictly. If the evidence demonstrates that the defendant knew that the plaintiff was of less than ordinary fortitude, the plaintiff’s injury may have been reasonably foreseeable to the defendant.”
Conclusion (para 20): Mr. Mustapha’s appeal was dismissed with costs.
So there we have it.