The Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the chambers judge’s decision dismissing the appellant’s application for judicial review of the Respondent’s decision denying her health benefits. The court of appeal held that the Respondent’s decision did not properly explain its reasons for preferring certain medical evidence over others, and therefore lacked transparency, and intelligibility and was unreasonable.

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Workers Compensation Boards – Benefits – Psychological injury – employment related – Evidence – Standard of review – Reasonableness simpliciter – Correctness

Sharif v. Alberta (Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation), [2011] A.J. No. 206, 2011 ABCA 75, Alberta Court of Appeal, March 4, 2011, E.I. Picard, P.T. Costigan and J.D.B. McDonald JJ.A.

The appellant was injured while at work in March 2004 and was awarded wage replacement and medical aid benefits for injuries to her back, spine, head, wrist and right knee. The appellant further complained of anxiety and depression for which she received treatment from a number of health care professionals yielding different diagnoses.

One treating psychiatrist opined that the appellant did not exhibit much evidence of clinical depression, while another physician, whom the appellant saw on numerous occasions, diagnosed the appellant with a Major Depressive Disorder but concluded that her ongoing depression symptoms were unrelated to the accident and were possibly caused by malingering. The position that she was either malingering or her depression was unrelated to her accident was shared by a treating psychiatrist and neuropsychologist. The appellant was admitted to Hospital in December 2007 until February 2008, during which time she received treatment from a psychiatrist who was of the view that her depressive condition was most probably a result of her work-related injury.

The appellant’s benefits were terminated in August 2004, and her request for continuing benefits due to depression were subsequently dismissed. The appellant appealed to the respondent Commission, which upheld the decision. The Commission placed considerable weight on the opinion of the physician who had held her symptoms to be resolved or due to malingering.

At the judicial review of the respondent’s decision, the chambers judge, using a standard of reasonableness to review the decision, held that the decision was reasonable despite the fact that the respondent may have been mistaken about the physician’s qualifications as a “physician/psychiatrist”. The chambers judge noted that, while it would have been preferable for the respondent to have been more specific as to why the report of a certain physician was not persuasive, it was not bound to do so.

The appellant appealed the chambers judge’s decision and the Court of Appeal, employing a standard of correctness to review the decision, held that the respondent’s decision lacked justification, transparency and intelligibility. The court noted that, as no viva voce medical evidence was called, the respondent’s decision was based solely on the medical reports on record, which could have led to an equally reasonable conclusion that the appellant did suffer from depression which was related to her work accident.

As the respondent did not sufficiently explain why it preferred the opinions of certain health professionals over others in reaching its decision, its decision was held to be unreasonable and the matter was remitted to the respondent for re-hearing before a new panel.

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