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Is a Psychologist a Physician?

In Rodrigues v. Purtill, 2019 ONCA 740, one of the issues was whether a psychologist is a “physician” for the purpose of proving that the plaintiff meets the statutory threshold in motor vehicle accident claims.

In order to meet the threshold of a permanent serious impairment, the applicable regulation requires the plaintiff to adduce the evidence of one or more “physicians” who are “trained for and experienced in the assessment or treatment of the type of impairment” alleged.

The Court of Appeal found it unnecessary to determine, on the facts of the case, whether a psychologist is a “physician”. The psychologist’s evidence was confirmed by the defendant’s own expert psychiatrist. This satisfied the requirements of the threshold.

However, the Court of Appeal suggested that the evidence of a psychologist, instead of a medical doctor, is sufficient for the purpose of the threshold.

The Court of Appeal stated that, arguably, what is important is not whether the expert is labelled a “doctor”, a “physician”, a “psychiatrist” or a “psychologist”.

Rather, it is important to examine whether the expert has the requisite training and experience to assess the impairment, to apply the established guidelines and standards of the profession, and to give expert evidence on the application of the criteria set out in the regulation.

The Court of Appeal indicated that the purpose of the legislation might well support an interpretation of “physician” that would include a psychologist.