Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry
By: Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc., October 22, 2013 (Issue 2013/18)
Supreme Court denies death benefits as death suffered outside of employment
Seafarer was engaged as Able Bodied Seaman for a period of 9 months subject to 3 months extension by mutual consent. The seaman boarded the vessel on 20 April 2003 and he was repatriated to the Philippines 17 months after due to finished contract on 8 September 2004. Two days after repatriation, the seaman was confined in the intensive care unit of a hospital due to pneumonia. The wife of the seafarer eventually advised the company of the seafarer’s confinement a week after repatriation. Eventually, the seafarer was diagnosed with lung cancer with brain metastasis and after going in and out of the hospital, died on 1 March 2005.
The heirs filed a claim for death benefits before the Labor Arbiter who dismissed the same as death was suffered outside the term of employment and there was no evidence that working conditions brought about the illness of the seafarer. Also, the mandatory reportorial requirement to undergo post-employment medical examination was not complied with.
The heirs appealed to the NLRC. The NLRC only awarded illness benefits to the seaman such as sickwages and reimbursement of medical expenses as they concluded that the seafarer suffered his illness during the term of employment and that the same is disputably presumed to be work-related. However, the claim for death benefits was denied because the seafarer died outside the term of his employment.
The heirs elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals and obtained a favourable decision where death benefits were awarded in addition to the amounts awarded by the NLRC. The Court of Appeals held that while there were no reports of illness during the employment of the seafarer, the fact that he was hospitalized just 2 days from repatriation would show that he was already suffering from an illness during his employment. As such, it is safe to conclude that the illness is work-related or work-aggravated. The fact that he died outside the term of employment would not be a hindrance to the claim as long as it was shown that the employment had contributed even to a small degree to the developments of the disease and eventual death. It was also held that the illness of the seafarer is disputably presumed to be work-related based on the POEA Contract.
The company elevated the matter to the Supreme Court which denied the claim for death benefits.
Death outside the term of employment under Section 20 A of the POEA Contract
The Supreme Court held that under the then Section 20 A of the POEA Contract, both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC were correct in exercising their discretion not to award death benefits. Under the POEA Contract, for death benefits to be compensable, the same must occur during the term of employment. In this case, the seafarer died 6 months after his employment with the company was severed.
Death may still be compensable if occurring outside employment if requirements for compensability under the POEA Contract are met
The Supreme Court held that unlike in Section 20 A of the POEA Contract, Section 32 considers the possibility of compensation for the death of a seafarer occurring after the termination of the employment contract. But for death to be compensable it must be shown that the seafarer’s work must involve the risks describe in the contract, the disease was contracted as a result of exposure to the describe risks, the disease was contracted within a period of exposure and such other factors necessary to contract it and there is no notorious negligence on the part of the seafarer.
In this case, the Supreme Court noted that no evidence was presented by the heirs to show that the requirements for compensability are present in the case. There was no documentation which would show that the seafarer fell ill during his employment. There was no concrete evidence as to the duties of the seafarer and how this could have resulted into him acquiring his illness. Thus, it cannot be inferred that the death of the seafarer after the term of the contract is compensable, if the inference is based solely on the circumstance that he was confined in the hospital 2 days after repatriation and died six months thereafter.
It is worthwhile to quote the Supreme Court’s actual words:
“In summary, the NLRC and the CA were excessively fixated on the proximity of the time between the repatriation and the death of the seafarer to automatically conclude that he contracted a fatal illness during his service. The CA even stressed in its ruling that it was safe to make that presumption.
“This approach to case disposition by the CA – making the factual findings based only on presumptions, and absent the quantum of evidence required in labor cases – is an erroneous application of the law on compensation proceedings. As we have ruled in Gabunas, Sr. v. Scanmar Maritime Services, Inc., citing Government Service Insurance System v. Cuntapay, claimants in compensation proceedings must show credible information that there is probably a relation between the illness and the work. Probability, and not mere possibility, is required; otherwise, the resulting conclusion would proceed from deficient proofs. Thus, since the CA crafted a legal conclusion out of conjectures and without substantial evidence, we rule that a reversible error of law attended its award of death benefits, minor child’s allowance, and burial expenses. For this reason, we delete the grant thereof to respondent.”
Sea Power Shipping Enterprises, Inc. et al., vs. Nenita P. Salazar, on behalf of deceased Armando L. Salazar; G.R. No.188595; First Division; August 28, 2013; Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Ponente
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