Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry
By: Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc., March 12, 2014 (Issue 2014/03)
Supreme Court: Seafarer permanently and totally disabled if no medical assessment is made within 240 days
Seafarer complained of pain on his lower back and claimed to have passed sandy materials while urinating. He was repatriated and referred to the company-designated physician for examination and treatment. It was later on determined that seafarer had nephrolithiasis and was given medications for this condition. The seafarer was under medical treatment with the company-designated doctors from 12 October 2004 to 14 October 2005. However, sometime 28 July 2005, seafarer consulted his own doctor who declared him to be disabled due to hypertension and nephrolithiasis with a remark that he is not expected to land any gainful employment because of his medical condition.
The seafarer filed a complaint for disability benefits but during the proceedings, he went back to the company-designated doctor for assessment where he was declared fit to work on 18 July 2006.
The Labor Arbiter awarded full disability benefits of US$60,000 to the seafarer on the basis that the seafarer was unable to work for more than 120 days. However, this decision was set aside by the NLRC who held that it is the findings of the company-designated physician which should prevail and even if the fit to work declaration was issued more than one year after repatriation, this should not be blamed on the respondents considering that on 14 October 2005, the seafarer no longer reported to the company-designated doctor for examination and treatment.
The Court of Appeals reinstated the decision of the Labor Arbiter again citing the fact that the seafarer was unable to work for more than 120 days and even more than the allowable maximum period of 240 days.
The Supreme Court held that seafarer is entitled to disability benefits and it was held that a seafarer’s disability becomes permanent and total when so declared by the company-designated physician, or, in case of absence of such a declaration either of fitness or permanent total disability, upon the lapse of the 120 or 240-day treatment period, while the seafarer’s disability continues and he is unable to engage in gainful employment during such period, and the company-designated physician fails to arrive at a definite assessment of the employee’s fitness or disability.
In this case, the seafarer was repatriated on 12 October 2004 and underwent treatment by the company-designated physician until 14 October 14, 2005, or for a continuous period of over one year – or for more than the statutory 120-day or even 240-day period. During said treatment period, the company-designated doctor did not arrive at a definite assessment of seafarer’s fitness or disability; thus, seafarer’s medical condition remained unresolved. It was only on 18 July 2006 that seafarer was declared fit to work by the company-designated doctor. Such declaration, however, became irrelevant, for by then, seafarer had been under medical treatment and unable to engage in gainful employment for more than 240 days. As such the conclusive presumption that the seafarer is totally and permanently disabled arose.
The issue of which medical findings should be given weight was rendered immaterial by the fact that there was no final medical assessment provided within the 240 day period that seafarer is already fit to work. As such, seafarer is entitled to a declaration of permanent and total disability with the concomitant benefits of US$60,000.
Alpha Ship Management Corporation / Junel M. Chan and/or Chuo Kaiun Company Limited vs. Eleosis Calo; G.R. No. 192034; Second Division; January 13, 2014; Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo, Ponente (Attys. Martin Abragan and Charles dela Cruz of Del Rosario & Del Rosario handled for vessel interests)
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