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Supreme Court affirms disability assessment issued by the company-designated physician; upholds POEA contract provision which specifies that disability not based on number of days of treatment but by disability grading

Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry

By:  Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc., February 23, 2017 (Issue 2017/03)

Supreme Court affirms disability assessment issued by the company-designated physician; upholds POEA contract provision which specifies that disability not based on number of days of treatment but by disability grading     

The seafarer was engaged as Cook.  During his employment, he felt severe pain in his right wrist and forearm while lifting a heavy load of meat.   He was then repatriated for medical treatment.  Upon repatriation, the company referred the seafarer to their designated physician where he was diagnosed with Flexor Carpi Radialis Tendinitis, Right; Sprain, Right thumb; Extensor Carpi Ulnaris Tendinitis, Right.  After 102 days of treatment, the company-designated physician issued a final medical report assessing the seafarer with a permanent and partial disability of grade “11” based on the POEA Contract.  Not satisfied with the assessment of the company-designated doctor, the seafarer obtained a second medical opinion from his chosen doctor who assessed him with a grade “10” disability.  On this basis, the seafarer demanded payment of full disability benefits when he initiated arbitration proceedings with the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) on the ground that he was not able to return to work for more than 120 days.   

The appointed voluntary arbitrators (VA) of the parties ruled that seaman is entitled to full disability benefits of US$60,000 as he was unable to work for more than 120 days.  Such ruling was sustained by the Court of Appeals (CA).  The company petitioned the Supreme Court which overruled the NCMB voluntary arbitrators and the Court of Appeals by dismissing the claim.

Seafarer assessed with a final disability assessment within 120 days; POEA Contract specifies that disability not based on number of days of treatment but by disability grading

The Court noted that the VA and the CA's award of permanent and total disability benefits in seafarer's favor was heavily anchored on his failure to obtain any gainful employment for more than 120 days after his medical repatriation.

Here, records reveal that 102 days from repatriation, the company-designated physician had already given his final assessment on seafarer when he diagnosed the latter with "Flexor Carpi Radialis Tendinitis, Right; Sprain, Right thumb; Extensor Carpi Ulnaris Tendinitis, Right" and gave a final disability rating of "Grade 11" pursuant to the disability grading provided in the 2010 POEA-SEC.  In view of the final disability rating made by the company-designated physician classifying seafarer's disability as merely permanent and partial - which was not refuted by seafarer’s physician except that seafarer's condition was classified as a Grade 10 disability - it is plain error to award permanent and total disability benefits to seafarer.

Moreover, it bears noting that as per respondent's contract with the company, his employment is covered by the 2010 POEA-SEC. It is well settled that the POEA-SEC is the law between the parties and, as such, its provisions bind both of them.  Under Section 20 (A) (6) of the 2010 POEA SEC, the determination of the proper disability benefits to be given to a seafarer shall depend on the grading system provided by Section 32 of the said contract, regardless of the actual number of days that the seafarer underwent treatment.

In this case, seafarer's disability was already determined as only permanent and partial, in view of its classification as Grade 11 by the company-designated physician and Grade 10 by his chosen physician. As such, the award of full disability benefits in favor of respondent clearly has no basis and, consequently, must be struck down.

Findings of the company-designated doctor prevail

The Court noted that there is a discrepancy between the findings of the company-designated doctor (grade “11”) and that of seafarer’s chosen doctor (grade “10”).  In this instance, the findings of the company-designated doctor were sustained.   

The Court noted that the company-designated physician examined, diagnosed, and treated seafarer from his repatriation on until he was assessed with a Grade 11 disability rating 102 days after.  On the other hand, seafarer’s chosen physician only examined him sparingly on a single consultation. As such, the assessment of the company-designated physician is more credible for having been arrived at after months of medical attendance and diagnosis, compared with the assessment of a private physician done in one day on the basis of an examination or existing medical records.  As such, seafarer should only be entitled to the equivalent of grade “11” which is US$7,465.

Jebsens Maritime, Inc., Sea Chefs Ltd. and Enrique Aboitiz vs. Florvin Rapiz, G.R. No. 218871, January 11, 2017; First Division, Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, ponente (Attys. Charles Dela Cruz and Ralph Villamor of DelRosario & Del Rosario handled for vessels interests)

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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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