Supreme Court denies claim based on hypertension and glaucoma due to failure to provide substantial evidence and breach of the three day rule


Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry

By:  Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc., 13 September 2019 (Issue 2019/10)

Supreme Court denies claim based on hypertension and glaucoma due to failure to provide substantial evidence and breach of the three day rule
Seafarer was engaged by the company on-board the vessel As Chief Engineer. Prior to embarkation, seafarer underwent a Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME) where it was noted that he had a medical history of high blood pressure and hypertension. Nevertheless, he was declared fit to work.
During employment, seafarer suffered from blurring vision and headache and was seen by a doctor in Japan and eventually repatriated.  Seafarer was referred to the company-designated physician where he was diagnosed with glaucoma. The company-designated doctor further clarified that seafarer’s glaucoma was not work-related.
Eventually, seafarer again was engaged by the company and underwent a PEME where he was declared fit but was given maintenance medicines for his hypertension.  During the term of his employment, the seafarer again suffered episodes of dizziness and blurring vision and was repatriated. 
Seafarer did not report to the company for treatment and after some months, again sought re-employment.  When employment was denied by the company, he filed a claim for disability benefits.
Seafarer alleged that his aliments were work-related as he was exposed to psychological stress for being away from his family, to consumption of fatty, cholesterol and sodium rich foods which were part of the provisions in the vessel, to heat in the engine room emitted by ship equipment and to frequent inhalation of diesel and hydrocarbons used as fuel for the vessel.
On the other hand, the company argues that the illnesses are not work-related as the company-designated doctor had again issued an opinion reiterating that glaucoma is not work-related.  The company likewise argued that the seafarer did not report to them within three days from repatriation.
The Labor Arbiter, NLRC and the Court of Appeals all denied the claim of the seafarer.  The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the claim.
Breach of the three-day rule
The Court found that the seafarer did not contest the fact that he did not report to the company-designated physician within three days from repatriation.  Instead, the seafarer argues that such failure will only forfeit his right to sick wages and not disability benefits.
The Court held that this argument is flawed.  Several decisions have already held that failure to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement under the POEA Contract results in the forfeiture of the right to claim compensation and disability benefits of a seafarer.
To ignore the rule would set a precedent with negative repercussions because it would open the floodgates to a limitless number of seafarers claiming disability benefits. It would certainly be unfair to the employer who would have difficulty determining the cause of a claimant's illness considering the passage of time. In such a case, the employers would have no protection against unrelated disability claims.
Likewise, reporting to the company within three days from repatriation is required so that the company- designated physician can promptly arrive at a medical diagnosis, considering that he has either 120 or 240 days, depending on the circumstances, within which to complete the assessment of the seafarer.
As such, it is clear that the reporting requirement is indispensable, not only in claiming sickness allowance but likewise in claiming compensation and disability benefits under the POEA Contract.
Seafarer failed to present substantial evidence that his glaucoma and hypertension are compensable.
The POEA Contract creates a disputable presumption that illnesses not listed as an occupational disease are work-related. This disputable presumption is made in the law to signify that the non-inclusion in the list of compensable diseases/illnesses does not translate to an absolute exclusion from disability benefits. At the same time, however, this disputable presumption does not signify an automatic grant of compensation and/or benefits claim.
Despite the presumption, the Court has held that the seafarer must still prove by substantial evidence that his work conditions caused or, at least, increased the risk of contracting the disease, as awards of compensation cannot rest entirely on bare assertions and presumptions.
On his hypertension, seafarer failed to substantially prove that the same was contracted due to, or aggravated by, the conditions of his work on board the vessel. The bare allegations that the sodium-rich food, physical and psychological stress and other emergencies on board the ship caused the exacerbation of his hypertension, is insufficient.  Even the opinion of seafarer’s private doctor, did not even explain the cause of the hypertension or attempt to connect the same to seafarer’s work conditions.  Moreover, there is no showing that he suffered hypertension while on board the vessel.
As for his glaucoma, seafarer claims that his duties and responsibilities as Chief Engineer, his exposure to the sea breeze and other elements of nature while the vessel is in open seas, the stress from his strenuous job and his emotional strain from homesickness aggravated his glaucoma. The Court rejected these contentions as thee were no competent medical history, records or physician's report to objectively substantiate the claim that there is a reasonable connection between seafarer’s work and his glaucoma.
Moreover, the Court gave weight to the medical opinion issued by the company-designated physician for seafarer’s first repatriation, that his glaucoma was not work related. While the company-designated physician’s opinion pertain to the seafarer’s glaucoma during his first repatriation, the same was given reasonable weight and credence in light of the settled jurisprudence that it is the company-designated physician who is entrusted with the task of assessing a seafarer's illness for purposes of claiming disability benefits.
J. M. vs. Asia Bulk Transport Phils., Inc., Inter-Ocean Company Limited (Foremryl Ocean Shipping Company) et. al., G.R. No. 224753, July 29, 2019, Second Division, Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, ponente (Attys. Joseph Rebano and Jonathan Vinarao of DelRosarioLaw handled for vessel interests)
Firm News
DelRosarioLaw Partner Florencio Aquino and Del Rosario Pandiphil Claims Executive Ruth Manalo recently gave a seminar last 23 August 2019 to the key officers of the GCM Group of Companies which is comprised of Abosta Shipmanagement Corporation, Alpha Ship Management Corporation, Alphera Marine Services Inc, and Astra Marine International, Inc..  Florencio discussed various legal issues on Filipino crew claims while Ruth discussed basic procedures in claims handling.
Our big thanks to the GCM Group of Companies for the invitation and the fruitful discussions and we hope to see you again in your future conferences.   

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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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