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Supreme Court denies death benefits as seafarer was diagnosed with chronic renal failure just seven days into employment

Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry

By:  Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc., February 9, 2017 (Issue 2017/02)

In this issue:

Supreme Court denies death benefits as seafarer was diagnosed with chronic renal failure just seven days into employment

Firm News - Promotions

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Supreme Court denies death benefits as seafarer was diagnosed with chronic renal failure just seven days into employment

Seafarer was engaged as Bosun after being declared fit to work in his pre-employment medical examination (PEME).  He embarked on 7 May 2009.  However, on 14 May 2009, seafarer developed weakness of the lower extremities and was vomiting.  He was confined for more than a week in a shore hospital where he was diagnosed with end stage renal failure.  On 23 May 2009, he was repatriated for further treatment under the company-designated physician who classified his illness as not work-related.  On 20 September 2009, the seafarer died.

On this basis, the heirs of the seafarer filed a claim for death benefits with the NLRC arguing that the seafarer’s illness is work-related considering that one of its causes is high blood pressure which on the other hand, was triggered by the nature of the seafarer’s work.  

The company denied the claim as the illness is not work-related and that it could not have been suffered during the one week employment of the seafarer.

The Labor Arbiter found for the heirs and awarded death benefits reasoning that the previous employments of the seafarer with the same company caused or aggravated to the escalation of the illness.

The NLRC and the Court of Appeals both denied the claim as there was failure on the part of the heirs to prove work-relation of the illness.

The Supreme Court finally declared that the heirs are not entitled to death benefits.

Heirs cannot just invoke presumption of work-relation

The Court explained that a work-related illness is defined under the POEA Standard Employment Contract 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, to wit: (1) The seafarer's work must involve the risks described herein; (2) The disease was contracted as a result of the seafarer's exposure to the described risks; (3) The disease was contracted within a period of exposure and under such other factors necessary to contract it; and (4) There was no notorious negligence on the part of the seafarer. It is also provided under Section 20B (4) of the same contract that illnesses not listed in Section 32-A are disputably presumed work-related. However, Section 20 should be read together with the conditions specified by Section 32-A for an illness to be compensable.

Accordingly, the heirs cannot just contend that while seafarer's chronic renal failure is not listed as an occupational disease, it is disputably presumed work-related, and it is for the company to overcome such presumption. The heirs still have to prove their claim for death compensation with substantial evidence or such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.

Heirs should have presented substantial evidence to prove work-relation of the illness

In their arguments, the Court noted that the heirs merely stated general statements that seafarer’s illness is work-related without any supporting document or medical record.  The heirs failed to show the nature of the seafarer’s work or the working conditions which could have caused or aggravated his illness.  The claim that seafarer’s work was characterized by stress, heavy workload and overfatigue were mere self-serving allegations which are not established by any evidence on record.  In fact, while the heirs argue that high blood pressure is one of the causes of kidney failure, they failed to present any evidence which would show that the seafarer was suffering from high blood pressure during his seven days employment with the company.

The Court further noted that the seafarer was only on-board for seven days when he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure.  Said illness is a progressive deterioration of the kidney function which happens over a period of time and therefore, cannot be absolutely declared that he developed such illness during that short period in the employ of the company.

Seafarer’s employment governed by the contract he signs every time he is rehired

It was argued by the heirs that while the seafarer’s last employment with the company was only for seven days, it should be considered that he was also previously employed by the company for eight months and that there is a big possibility that he contracted the illness during that time.  However, this argument was shot down by the Court.

The Court held that the seafarer’s employment is governed by the contract he signs every time he is rehired and his employment is terminated when his contract expires.  As such, his contract with the company was considered automatically terminated after the expiration of each overseas employment contract.  

Also, if the seafarer was suffering from chronic renal failure when he began his last employment with the company, then said illness which was suffered during the previous contract is considered as pre-existing during the subsequent contract.  Hence, seafarer’s death arising from a pre-existing illness is not compensable as he did not acquire it during the term of his last employment contract with the respondents.  

Alma Covita, for her behalf and in behalf of her two minor children, Jerry and Ron, both surnamed Covita vs. SSM Maritime Services, Inc. and/or Maritime Fleet Services PTE Ltd. and/or Gladiola Jalotjot, G.R. No. 206600, December 7, 2016; Third Division, Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, ponente

Firm News - Promotions

We are pleased to announce the promotions of Ruth Manalo, Razelle España and Shirley Perez from Junior Claims Executives to Claims Executives of Del Rosario Pandiphil, Inc.

Ruth is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduate of Concordia College, Manila and is a registered nurse since 2009.

Razelle is a Political Science graduate (cum laude) of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila and is currently completing her post graduate degree in Risk and Insurance Management at the De La Salle University, Manila.

Shirley is a Math Major graduate of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Cavite.

The firm is also pleased to announce the promotions of Carrie Hernandez  and Krisha Rasing from Assistant Claims Executives to Junior Claims Executives.

Carrie is a graduate of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila with a degree of Bachelor in Office Administration.

Krisha is a graduate of Cavite State University with a degree of Bachelor of Science Major in Tourism & Resort Management.

All those promoted have been with DelRosario Pandiphil Inc. for a number of years.

Our congratulations to all!!!      

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“Del Rosario & Del Rosario is more or less unrivalled when it comes to maritime work in the Philippines” from Asia-Pacific, The Legal 500, 2014, p. 497

“Del Rosario & Del Rosario is often first port of call for employment law within the maritime industry, where it represents shipowners, agents, insurers and port owners.” Asia-Pacific, The Legal 500, 2014, p. 494

“Offers comprehensive shipping expertise. Maintains an excellent reputation for representing P&I firms and handling collision and crew casualties.  A strong team that is well known in the market.” Chambers Asia Pacific, 2014 p. 949

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