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Supreme Court declares premature the filing of a complaint for disability benefits while seafarer under treatment

Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry

By:  Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc., 2 July 2018 (Issue 2018/09)
Supreme Court declares premature the filing of a complaint for disability benefits while seafarer under treatment

Seafarer was an Able Seaman who experienced pain in his inguinal area and pelvic bone during employment.  After being seen by a shore doctor, he was eventually repatriated for further medical treatment.  Upon repatriation, the company referred him to its designated physician on 8 February 2010 who diagnosed the seafarer with “Epididymitis, right, Varicocoele, left”.  Seafarer underwent surgery and treatment with the company-designated physician.  While still undergoing treatment with the company-designated physician, the seafarer filed a complaint for disability benefits on 20 July 2010 and consulted his own doctor on 12 August 2010 where he was declared to be unfit to resume duties with additional finding of essential hypertension.  Eventually, the company-designated physician declared the seafarer fit to work on 24 August 2010.
The Labor Arbiter gave credence to the findings of the seafarer’s personal doctor and awarded disability benefits to the seafarer.  Said award was echoed by both the NLRC and the Court of Appeals by holding that the disability of the seafarer is total and permanent as the fit to work certification of the company-designated physician was issued after more than 120 days.
Upon reaching the Supreme Court, the decisions of the tribunals below were set aside and the claim was dismissed.
The Court found serious error when the NLRC and the Court of Appeals declared the disability of the seafarer to be permanent and total just because of the lapse of 120 days.  The Court again reminded that the 120 days rule was already clarified that the same can be extended to 240 days if further medical treatment is needed.  Based on the evidence presented in this case, it was clear that the seafarer underwent extensive treatment with the company-designated physician which justified the extension to 240 days.
At the time that the seafarer filed his complaint, he was just under treatment for 162 days and without a definite assessment from the company-designated physician, his condition cannot be considered as total and permanent.  It will only become permanent when the company-designated physician, within 240 days, declares it to be so or when after the lapse of said period, he fails to make such a declaration.  
As such, at the time that the complaint was filed, seafarer was still under a state of temporary disability.  Therefore, his cause of action for permanent and total disability benefits has not yet accrued which will make his complaint premature.
The Court also noted the fact that the seafarer failed to comply with the dispute resolution procedure of the POEA Contract in the event of contradicting opinions from the company-designated physician and his personal physician. This is precisely so because at the time the seafarer sought the opinion of his personal doctor, there was yet no final assessment issued by the company-designated physician.  While the seafarer is not precluded from obtaining a second medical opinion from his chosen doctor, this is on the presumption that the company-designated physician has already issued a final medical assessment which he finds disagreeable.  
Scanmar Maritime Services, Inc. and Crown Shipmanagement, Inc. vs. C. H., G.R. No. 211187, April 16, 2018, First Division, Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo, ponente

Firm News
DelRosarioLaw Senior Partner Charles Jay Dela Cruz was recently re-elected as Board Trustee and Corporate Secretary of the Philippines Norway Business Council (PNBC). PNBC is a non-profit organization which aims to promote closer economic and friendly relations between Philippines and Norway and serves as a forum for exchange of views on business and commercial dealings in both domestic and international settings. DelRosarioLaw acts as legal advisor to PNBC.
Aside from serving in such Boards, Charles is usually invited to speak in various for a. He just spoke on the “Nuances of Retirement Law in the Philippines” at the 1st HR Compliance Conference held on 19-20 June 2018 at the SMX Aura Convention, BGC.

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