Supreme Court declares Chronic Calculus Cholecystitis not work-related
Seafarer was engaged as Cook on-board the ship under the terms of the POEA Contract. While on board the ship, seafarer experienced abdominal pain, fever, and yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes. He was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with billary duct stone, jaundice, and suspected pancreatitis. He was medically repatriated and immediately referred to the company-designated physician (CDP). After undergoing cholecystectomy and intraoperative cholangiogram, he was diagnosed with "Chronic Calculus Cholecystitis". Eventually, the seafarer was evaluated by their gastroenterologist who allowed him to resume his previous activities, and declared him fit to return to work. However, seafarer insisted that he remained unfit as he continued to experience recurring and severe abdominal pains. This prompted him to undergo a medical check-up with his own doctor who concluded that he was "unfit to resume work as a seaman in any capacity”. Based on the opinion of his own doctor, seafarer filed a complaint for disability benefits before the Voluntary Arbitrators of the NCMB claiming that he contracted his illness due to his poor working conditions. The company countered that seafarer was declared fit to work and that the illness was not work-related.
The Voluntary Arbitrators ruled that seafarer is not entitled to permanent disability benefits in view of the declaration of the CDP that he was fit to work. They also ruled that seafarer is not entitled to attorney's fees. However, they awarded seafarer the amount of US$20,000.00 as financial assistance because he contracted his illness while on board the ship.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) deleted the award of US$20,000. The award could not be classified as disability benefits as defined in the POEA Contract because seafarer failed to show that his illness was work-related or that the ship's working conditions aggravated it. The CA also gave greater weight on the company-designated physician’s finding that seafarer is fit to return to work.
Upon petition, the Supreme Court sustained the decision of the CA.
The Court held that Section 20 of POEA Contract provides that for an illness or injury to be compensable, it must be work-related and must be incurred during the term of the seafarer's contract. It defines work-related illness as "any sickness resulting to disability or death as a result of an occupational disease listed under Section 32-A of this Contract with the conditions set therein satisfied. Said section further provides for the list of occupational disease and notably, the list does not include Chronic Calculus Cholecystitis. While those diseases not listed are disputably presumed as work-related, the disputable presumption does not signify an automatic grant of compensation and/or benefits claim. There is still a need for the claimant to establish, through substantial evidence, that his illness is work-related.
Here, it is undisputed that seafarer was suffering from Chronic Calculus Cholecystitis due to development of gallstones. Since this illness is not listed in Section 32-A of the POEA Contract, he had the burden of showing that he contracted gallstones because of his work as cook on-board the ship. He merely presented general averments and allegations that the hot temperature and constant meat or high fat diet aboard the vessel caused or aggravated the development of his gallstones. These general statements surmise mere possibilities but not the probability required by law for disability compensation. Mere possibility will not suffice and a claim will still fail if there is only a possibility that the employment caused or aggravated the disease. Even considering that the respondents have shown probability, their basis is, nonetheless incompetent for being uncorroborated. Probability of work-connection must at least be anchored on credible information and not on self-serving allegations. Certainly, disability compensation cannot rest on mere allegations couched in conjectures and baseless inferences from which work-aggravation or relatedness cannot be presumed. Awards of compensation cannot rest on speculations or presumptions, such as seafarer’s allegations. His claims on work-relatedness were not corroborated by other evidence. Other than his conjectures of entitlement to compensation, there is nothing in the records to substantiate the claims that would have justified the award. Therefore, seafarer is not entitled to illness benefit for failure to establish work-relatedness by substantial evidence. Hence, as the CA correctly found, the award of US$20,000.00 on top of the medical expenses already shouldered by the employer is erroneous. paid to him by FSC.
F. D. vs. Fair Shipping Corporation, Boseline S.A. et al, G.R. No 203539, February 10, 2021; Third Division, Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando, ponente (Attys. Herbert Tria and Catherine Mangahas of DelRosarioLaw handled for vessel interests)
DelRosarioLaw Partners Charles Dela Cruz and Denise Cabanos together with Managing Associate Julius Yano acted as resource speakers at the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) Lawyers’ Convention held virtually on 29 October 2021.
Charles shared his insights and experience as Past President of the Maritime Law Association (MARLAW) in delivering the presentation, “Manifesting MARLAW’s Mandate”. Denise joined the open forum as MARLAW’s Immediate Past Chairman covering the more recent undertakings of said organization. Julius for his part, spoke on “Philippine maritime laws and MARINA rules and regulations: from the perspective of a private practitioner.” He is regularly invited to various MARINA fora and is currently MARLAW Public Relations Officer.
DelRosarioLaw Partner Florencio Aquino was recently invited to be a guest speaker by the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy, Graduate School last 16 October 2021. Florencio’s topic was on Filipino Seafarer’s Claims in the Philippines and he also discussed the Seafarer’s Protection Act. Many thanks to PMMA GS for the invitation and being part of your ongoing seminars.
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