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Supreme Court upholds company-designated physician’s Certificate of Fitness to Work

 

Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry

By:  Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc., 23 April 2019 (Issue 2019/05)

 

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Supreme Court upholds company-designated physician’s Certificate of Fitness to Work
 
The seafarer was engaged as a “technical rating” and during his employment, he slipped and fell on his back.  He was taken to a shore side medical facility where he was found to be suffering from “Stable Anterior Wedge Fracture T10”.  Because of this, the seafarer was repatriated for further medical treatment with the company-designated doctor.
 

Further tests confirmed that seafarer was suffering from “Thoracic Spine Spondylosis with associated T12 Compression Fracture”.  The company-designated doctor then issued an interim assessment of grade “8” and advised the seafarer to continue his rehabilitation and medication. Eventually, the seafarer was declared fit to work and he even executed a Certificate of Fitness to Work.
 
When the seafarer was not re-employed by the company after almost four months, he consulted another doctor about the pain in his back.  He was assessed with a grade “11” disability and was recommended not to lift heavy objects.  The seafarer also consulted another doctor who assessed him permanently unfit for further sea duty in any capacity.  Thereafter, the seafarer filed a complaint for disability benefits.
 
The Labor Arbiter awarded full disability benefits to the seafarer and held that the Certificate of Fitness to Work is invalid as it includes a waiver of future claims which is prohibited.  It was also concluded that the seafarer signed the Certification of Fitness to Work with the expectation that he would be redeployed given his long and continued service with the respondents under his previous contracts.  When the seafarer was not re-engaged, this supports the disposition that the seafarer was not fit for re-deployment notwithstanding the fit to work assessment of the company-designated physician.
 
On appeal to the NLRC, the claim was dismissed.  The NLRC gave more credence to the findings of the company-designated physician and noted that the seafarer did not immediately contest this and only sought the opinion of other doctors when he was not re-deployed.  Moreover, the NLRC held that the company was under no obligation to re-hire the seafarer after his contract expired.
 
However, the Court of Appeals reinstated the decision of the Labor Arbiter sustaining the award of disability benefits.
 
When the case reached the Supreme Court, the claim was again dismissed.
 
Certificate of Fitness to Work upheld
 
The Court held that there is no doubt that the company-designated physician’s certification was issued within the extended 240 days period allowed for the seafarer’s medical treatment.  This is not contested by the seafarer as in fact, he did not challenge the Certificate of Fitness to Work when it was issued and four months after that.  That when the seafarer signed the certificate on the same day he was declared fit is proof of his concurrence with the company-designated physician’s findings.
 
In the same manner, within the four months before the seafarer filed his compliant, he did not return to the company-designated physician or see a doctor of his own choice to complain of any lingering affliction.  It was only when he was not deployed that he consulted with his two doctors – both of his own choosing.
 
The Court further held that the findings of the company-designated physician was not a hastily issued missive but the product of months of consultations, examinations, treatments, and assessment.  Compared to the findings of the two doctors the seafarer chose, who only examined him once and based their assessment on his previous medical treatment, the company-designated physician’s certification is more credible and must be upheld.
 
Non-compliance with third doctor procedure fatal to seafarer’s cause
 
The Court recognized that the seafarer has the right to seek a second medical opinion from a physician of his own choice.  However, the process does not stop there.  In addition to obtaining a second medical opinion, the seafarer must activate the conflict resolution procedure stated in the POEA Contract.  It is the seafarer who bears the burden of positive action to prove that his doctor’s findings are correct, as well as the burden to notify the company that a contrary finding had been made by his own doctor.  Upon the discharge of said burdens, then it is now the burden of the company to initiate the process for the referral to a third doctor agreed upon by the parties.  The referral to a third doctor upon mutual agreement of the parties is mandatory and unjustified failure to comply with the procedure will militate against claim for benefits.
 
In this case, the seafarer never questioned the company-designated physician’s assessment, nor informed the company of the contrary diagnosis by his doctors. There is likewise no evidence that the seafarer gave the company any chance to seek a third doctor’s opinion as in fact, the complaint was filed just two days after he obtained the opinion of his personal doctor.
 
In conclusion, the Court held that the seafarer’s failure to follow the mandated procedure of the POEA Contract is fatal to his cause and holds the Certificate of Fitness to Work issued by the company-designated physician is conclusive and binding on the parties.
 
Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, Fleet Maritime Service International Ltd., et. al . and MV AZURA vs. M. V., G.R. No. 221250, October 10, 2018, Second Division, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, ponente (Attys. Herbert Tria and Pedrito Faytaren, Jr.  of DelRosarioLaw handled for vessel interests)
 
Firm News
 
 DelRosarioLaw Senior Partner Charles Dela Cruz and DelRosarioPandiphil In-house Medical Doctor Edgardo Del Rosario were invited by the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) to speak at the 23rd Labor Dispute Management Course, an annual training workshop for its Directors and Conciliators-Mediators held on 3 April 2019 in Candelaria, Zambales. Atty. Dela Cruz lectured on “Maritime Jurisprudence” while Dr. Del Rosario (with Atty. Dela Cruz as panel speaker) discussed “Compensable Illnesses/Diseases and Disability”.
 
DelRosarioLaw Familiarization Program
 
 We would like to thank all those who participated in the DelRosarioLaw Program over the past 6 months.  We have had visitors from Skuld P&I (Anne Wikdal, Yvonne Thaulow, April Goh and Mark Rudd), West of England (Kay Mathews, Monica Whiting and Aliki Gotsi) and the Swedish Club (Karoline Rydelid and Julia Ju).    
 
The DelRosarioLaw Familiarization Program aims to help participants in better understanding Filipino crew claims and the legal system in the Philippines.  It includes visits to PEME and post-employment clinics, the labor courts, manning agents and the unions.            
 
Should you wish to participate, please send us an email and we will be more than happy to welcome and assist you in the program.
 

 

Areas of Specialization: Shipping, Labour, Transport, Corporate, Mergers & Acquisitions, Insurance, Immigration, Litigation, Arbitration, Intellectual Property
 
2018 AsiaLaw Profiles: Outstanding in Shipping, Maritime & Aviation; Recommended in Dispute Resolution & Litigation, Intellectual Property, Labour & Employment

“Del Rosario & Del Rosario has the strongest shipping practice in the Philippines. They definitely deserves the top ranking.” AsiaLaw Profiles 2018

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“For almost four decades, DelRosarioLaw has led in the shipping and transport practice in the Philippines by assisting stakeholders in fostering institutional changes to ensure the continued viability of the local shipping and manning sectors. This enduring reputation has made the firm’s opinion in major maritime policies of the country most sought after.” Chambers Asia-Pacific 2018

 

 

 

Bulletin

The Asia Business Law Journal has named Managing Partners Arturo Del Rosario, Jr. and Ruben Del Rosario and Senior Partner Joseph Rebano as one of the Philippines Top 100 Lawyers in their recently published list.

The Top 100 list of lawyers can be accessed as follows:
https://www.vantageasia.com/asia-business-law-journal/Philippines-lawyers/#INTRODUCTION

 

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DelRosarioLaw welcomes Ruben Jose G. Del Rosario Jr., as a Junior Associate of the firm. He is a 2011 Bachelor of Science in Management, Major in Legal Management graduate of Ateneo de Manila and a 2017 Bachelor of Laws graduate of San Beda College - Alabang.

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Partner Charles Dela Cruz spoke on "Nuances of Retirement Law in the Philippines" at the 2nd HR Compliance Conference held on September 25-26, 2018 at SMX Aura Convention in Bonifacio Global City.

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Partners Charles Dela Cruz and Herbert Tria spoke on “Current Crew Claims Handling Issues related to the Data Privacy Act” at the 7th Annual Magsaysay Shipping and Logistics’ Marine Insurance Seminar held on 21 September 2018 at Robert Hall, Times Plaza Building, Manila.

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DelRosarioLaw Senior Partner Charles Jay Dela Cruz was elected as member of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) for the term 2018-2019.

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Downloads

  • 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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