Supreme Court holds that the 3-day reporting requirement is not a bright-line rule but a balancing test
Seafarer, as Motorman, experienced pain while urinating and discharged blood in his urine. Examination showed urinary tract infection (UTI) and chronic prostatitis. He was advised further checkups, declared unfit to work and medically repatriated. Upon his arrival in Manila, he went straight home to his hometown in the absence of instructions from the company. The next day, seafarer used the company-issued health card and went to see a doctor who requested that he undergo a kidney-urinary-bladder ultrasound and urinalysis. Seafarer’s wife informed the company via mobile phone that he could not personally report to the office due to his medical condition.
The seafarer had a series of in-patient laboratory tests which revealed a mass in his left kidney. He was referred to another hospital where his left kidney was surgically removed. Biopsy later confirmed that he had renal cell carcinoma. After more than six (6) months, he sought the medical opinions of other doctors who declared him unfit to work in any capacity as seaman with a diagnosis of hypertension and renal cell carcinoma in his left kidney. Seafarer then initiated voluntary arbitration against the company for payment of disability benefits, among others.
The company denied the claim and countered that seafarer was not medically repatriated but was sent home due to finished contract. It asserted that seafarer forfeited his disability claim for he failed to report to the company-designated physician within three (3) days from repatriation.
The panel of Voluntary Arbitrators awarded full disability benefits to the seafarer holding that there was substantial compliance with the 3-day reportorial requirement when seafarer’s wife informed the company that seafarer was physically incapacitated to report to the company’s office due to health reasons. The voluntary arbitrators also ruled the illness of the seafarer to be work-related and permanently unfit for sea duty.
Upon petition, the Court of Appeals dismissed the claim and did not give weight to the argument of the seafarer that he is exempted from complying with the 3-day reportorial requirement because he was physically incapacitated to do so. The appellate court also did not consider in seafarer’s favor the fact that his wife called up the company to notify it of his medical condition. Further, the appellate court did not give credence to the findings of the chosen doctors of the seafarer as there is no showing that they were the ones who conducted the treatment.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, the award of disability benefits was again reinstated.
The 3-day reporting requirement is not a bright-line rule but a balancing or fine-line filtering test
The Court held that both the applicable CBA and the POEA Contract require a seafarer seeking disability benefits to submit to post-medical examination by a company-designated physician within three (3) working days from his repatriation. Reporting to the company within three (3) days from repatriation is required so that the company-designated physician can promptly arrive at a medical diagnosis. Reporting immediately would make it easier for a physician to determine the cause of illness or injury. Beyond the three-day period, it may prove difficult to ascertain the real cause of the illness or injury. But the three-day period filtering mechanism is not a bright line test. It is not an all-or-nothing requirement that non-compliance automatically means disqualification. The three-day period cannot be interpreted in this manner. While the 3-day reportorial requirement should not be ignored, a balancing test of the rule is necessary. The Court has established precedents that ought to guide the determination of its proper application. In some instances, the Court dispensed with the mandatory reporting because the seafarer was terminally ill and in urgent need of medical attention or found that his employer was sufficiently notified of the medical condition as it was presumed that copy of the diagnostic treatment while abroad was furnished his employer.
Here, the Court found that the facts of the case would warrant a relaxation of the 3-day reportorial rule. The Court held that when the seafarer arrived in the Philippines, he was already ill and no longer in good physical condition to go back to Manila for treatment. Immediately, seafarer was subjected to series of laboratory tests to properly diagnose his ailment. Seafarer’s primary concern was his health rather than physically strain himself just to report to the company. Also, there is no need for notice to be given to company as this would already be redundant for they were already aware of his medical condition prior to his repatriation. Moreover, his spouse even phoned his employer to inform it repeatedly about his ill condition. While the company insisted that seafarer was sent home because his contract has ended, it failed to present any evidence that it was unaware that seafarer was initially treated in a foreign port for UTI and chronic prostatitis prior to his repatriation. The ship captain even issued the certificate stating that seafarer needed to have a follow-up check-up based on the doctor's initial assessment on his condition. As such, the seafarer had already established his substantial compliance with the 3-day reportorial requirement. He was excused from the reporting requirement for he was physically incapacitated to personally report.
Petitioner's illness existed during the term of his employment and aggravated by work conditions
The Court noted that the treatment by the health card-accredited doctors of the company served the equivalent post-employment medical examination to show that seafarer's illness existed during his employment. This was also the same symptoms that he was persistently complaining about during his employment and immediately after his repatriation. As such, the illness of the seafarer was existing during the term of the employment.
The Court also found the seafarer’s nature of work to have been aggravated by his illness. Seafarer was exposed to strenuous physical activities for an extended period of time which were physically and mentally demanding especially during monitoring all motors, engine, equipment, and condition of the vessel. He was all directly exposed to all forms of toxic fumes such as asbestos and gases, and excessive noise inside the engine room. It likewise remains undisputed that given his 8 years of employment with the company,
and the conditions he was subjected to, seafarer's illness can be attributed to his work.
C.C. Vs. Grieg Philippines, Inc., Grieg Star AS (Formerly Grieg Shipping AS), et al., G.R. No. 252199. May 5, 2021; Second Division, Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier, ponente (Attys. Charles Dela Cruz and Aldrich Del Rosario of DelRosarioLaw handled for vessel interests)
DelRosarioLaw Senior Partner Charles Jay Dela Cruz was invited again to be a resource speaker in the recently concluded Pre-Accreditation Training Program for Voluntary Arbitrators conducted by the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) in coordination with the Tripartite Voluntary Arbitration Advisory Council (TVAAC) held on August 9 to 13, 2021. Charles has been consistently tapped to share his expertise in similar NCMB training sessions such as retooling of Maritime Voluntary Arbitrators and continuing education for Conciliators and Mediators.
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