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Supreme Court rules that strange behavior alone is insufficient to prove insanity

Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry

By:  Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc.,  August 2, 2017 (Issue 2017/12)

Supreme Court rules that strange behavior alone is insufficient to prove insanity

During employment, the seafarer started exhibiting unusual behavior. When the ship captain checked on him, he responded incoherently, though it appeared that he had problems with his brother in the Philippines. This prompted the captain to set double guards on the seafarer. The crew watching over the seafarer reported that he wanted to board a life boat, citing danger in the ship's prow. Because of the seafarer’s condition, the captain relieved him of his shift and allowed him to sleep in the cabin guarded. The following day, the captain wanted to supervise the seafarer better, so he took him on deck and assigned to him simple tasks, such as correcting maps and collecting and typing the crew's declarations. The captain observed that the seafarer’s condition was "rather better" and he "did not appear to have any problems." Later that day, seafarer requested the crew-on-guard that he be allowed to return to the deck for some fresh air. Once on deck, the seafarer suddenly ran to the stem and jumped to the sea. The ship's rescue attempts proved futile, and seafarer’s body was never recovered.  Eventually, a claim for death benefits was filed by the heirs of the seafarer.  The same was denied by the company as the cause of death was suicide.
 
The Labor Arbiter and the NLRC both dismissed the claim as they found that the seafarer committed suicide.  They held that when the death of the seaman resulted from his own willful act, the death is not compensable.  The Court of Appeals granted the claim and held that seafarer’s strange conduct prior to jumping off ship would show that he was not in a proper mental state and as such, his jumping off the ship cannot be considered as a willful act.  As such, the heirs of the seafarer should be entitled to death benefits.
 
Upon further petition, the Supreme Court eventually held that the claim should be dismissed.
 
The Court explained that the burden rests on the employer to prove by substantial evidence that seafarer’s death was directly attributable to his deliberate or willful act. On the part of the employer, they were able to submit the ship log entries and master's report to prove that seafarer suddenly jumped overboard the ship. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that seafarer’s act was not a willful one because he was not in his right mental state when he committed the act.
 
The Court further clarified that evidence of insanity or mental sickness may be presented to negate the requirement of willfulness as a matter of counter-defense.  But the burden of evidence is then shifted to the claimant to prove that the seafarer was of unsound mind. In this case, the claimant merely relied on the unusual behavior of the seafarer prior to the incident to prove that the latter was of unsound mind or insane.
 
The Court held that the reliance on the strange behavior of the seafarer, as detailed by the ship captain in the ship log and master's report, cannot be considered as substantial evidence to prove insanity.  While such behavior may be indicative of a possible mental disorder, it is insufficient to prove that seafarer had lost full control of his mental faculties. In order for insanity to prosper as a counter-defense, the claimant must substantially prove that the seafarer suffered from complete deprivation of intelligence in committing the act or complete absence of the power to discern the consequences of his action. Mere abnormality of the mental faculties does not foreclose willfulness. In fact, the ship log shows the seafarer was still able to correct maps and type the declarations of the crew hours before he jumped overboard. The captain observed that seafarer did not appear to have any problems while performing these simple tasks, while the crew-on-guard reported that seafarer did not show any signs of unrest immediately before the incident.  These circumstances, coupled with the legal presumption of sanity, tend to belie the claim that seafarer no longer exercised any control over his own senses and mental faculties.
 
Seapower Shipping Ent., Inc.  vs. Heirs of Warren Sabanal, represented by Elvira Ong-Sabanal, G.R. No. 198544, June 19, 2017, Third Division, Associate Justice Francis Jardaleza (Attys. Charles Dela Cruz and Pamela Coseip-Abarico of Del Rosario & Del Rosario handled for vessels interests)
 
Firm News

Del Rosario Partner Saben Loyola was a speaker at the Propeller Club of Manila last 26 July 2017. He delivered a talk on "Government Regulations on Expats in the Philippine Manning Industry" at the Elks Club Makati.   Propeller Club of Manila is a non-profit organization with projects such as offering scholarships to the youth so they can eventually be employed in the maritime industry. Thank you to the Propeller Club of Manila for your kind invitation and looking forward to more discussions.
 
Del Rosario Pandiphil medical consultant, Dr. Edgardo Del Rosario, through the Japan P&I Club, is a contributor to the Mariner’s Digest of the Japan Shipping Exchange, Inc.   Dr. Del Rosario, in a series of articles, has discussed common illnesses in seafaring such as: appendicitis, stones and mental illnesses.

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2017 AsiaLaw Profiles:  Outstanding in Shipping, Maritime & Aviation; Recommended in Dispute Resolution  & Litigation, Insurance, Intellectual Property, Labour & Employment
 
“Del Rosario & Del Rosario is more or less unrivalled when it comes to maritime work in the Philippines” from Asia-Pacific, The Legal 500, 2014, p. 497
 
“Del Rosario & Del Rosario is often first port of call for employment law within the maritime industry, where it represents shipowners, agents, insurers and port owners.” Asia-Pacific, The Legal 500, 2014, p. 494
 
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This publication aims to provide commentary on issues affecting the manning industry, analysis of recent cases and updates on legislation.  It is meant to be brief and is not intended to be legal advice.  To subscribe or for further information, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



 

 

 


 
 

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  • IRR Seafarer's Protection Act
  • Seafarers Protection Act
  • ORDINANCE No. 28 Series of 2015 Zambales, Philippines
  • NLRC MEMO on 3rd Doctor
  • NLRC Rules of Procedure 2011
  • Standard Terms and Conditions of Del Rosario Law
  • POEA SEC - 2010 Amendments
  • POEA Memorandum Circular No. 10 Series of 2010
  • Governing Board Resolution No. 09 Series of 2010

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