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Supreme Court upholds disability benefits based on Parkinson’s Disease

Philippine Shipping Update – Manning Industry     

By:  Ruben Del Rosario, President, Del Rosario Pandiphil Inc., May 11, 2017 (Issue 2017/08)

In this issue:

Supreme Court upholds disability benefits based on Parkinson’s Disease

Firm News: Saben Loyola named partner of DelRosarioLaw

Other Firm News

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Supreme Court upholds disability benefits based on Parkinson’s disease

Seafarer was hired by the company as Team Headwaiter.  Seafarer alleged that he assumed his duties for two years during which he averaged ten to twelve hours of work daily. On certain occasions, seafarer was also assigned as a "fire watch" while the vessel was repaired or dry-docked, exposing himself to extreme heat from welding works and unusual amount of toxic fumes from alcohol and thinner mixed with paint to be used after welding.

While on board the vessel, seafarer experienced uncontrollable blinking, shaking and difficulty in speaking and breathing for three weeks. Seafarer was referred to a shore medical facility and eventually, was repatriated due to the severity of his condition. Upon arrival in the Philippines, he was referred to the company-designated physician for treatment and when his condition did not improve, he sought treatment from his own doctor who diagnosed his illness as Parkinson's Disease; hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and declared him unfit for duty in whatever capacity as a seaman.

The employer acknowledged that seafarer was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and that he underwent several medical treatments and examinations. However, his claim for disability benefits was denied as his condition was determined to be unrelated to his work.

The seafarer then filed a complaint for disability benefits with the Labor Arbiter.  The Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of the seafarer and held that with the uncertainty of the origin of the disease, it cannot be discounted that the work of the seafarer contributed even to a small degree to its progression.  Thus, an award of dull disability benefits was issued.  Such decision was upheld by the NLRC on appeal.

Upon petition with the Court of Appeals, the decisions of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC were reversed.  The Court of Appeals held that Parkinson’s Disease is not a listed occupational disease and it was imperative for the seafarer to establish causal connection between his work and the illness.   

Upon further review, the Supreme Court upheld the claim for disability benefits.

The Court held that the POEA-SEC defines a work-related injury as "injury(ies) resulting in disability or death arising out of and in the course of employment," and a 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." For illnesses not mentioned under Section 32, the POEA-SEC creates a disputable presumption in favor of the seafarer that these illnesses are work-related. Notwithstanding the presumption, the Court have held that on due process grounds, the claimant-seafarer must still prove by substantial evidence that his work conditions caused or, at least, increased the risk of contracting the disease. This is because awards of compensation cannot rest entirely on bare assertions and presumptions. In order to establish compensability of a non-occupational disease, reasonable proof of work-connection is sufficient-direct causal relation is not required. Thus, probability, not the ultimate degree of certainty, is the test of proof in compensation proceedings.

The Supreme Court held that the seafarer was able to meet the required degree of proof that his illness is compensable as it is work-connected.  Citing the NLRC, the Court noted that as Team Waiter and as a seaman, complainant was prone to smoking and to a bit of drinking to beat the cold weather they encounter in the high seas. Further, as seaman, he, by the very nature of his work, cannot just leave his post and duty just to discharge his urine. In multiple system atrophy, the most common first sign of MSA is the appearance of an akenetic rigid syndrome. Other common signs at onset include problems with balance (cerebellar ataxia), followed by genito-urinary problems. Both men and women often experience problems with their bladders including urgency, frequency, incomplete bladder emptying or an inability to pass urine (reduction).

By the very nature of seafarer’s work, therefore, where there is incomplete bladder emptying or inability to pass urine, has likewise contributed to his present medical ailment.

The Court further added that working on any vessel, whether it be a cruise ship or not, can still expose any employee to harsh conditions. In this case, aside from the usual conditions experienced by seafarers, such as the harsh conditions of the sea, long hours of work, stress brought about by being away from their families, petitioner, a team head waiter, also performed the duties of a "fire watch" and assigned to welding works, all of which contributed to seafarer's stress, fatigue and extreme exhaustion. To presume, therefore, that employees of a cruise ship do not experience the usual perils encountered by those working on a different vessel is utterly wrong.

Lamberto De Leon vs. Maunlad Trans, Inc., Seachest Associates, et.al., G.R. No. 215293, February 8, 2017; Second Division, Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, ponente (Our Attys. Catherine Mangahas and Cresta Macalalad of DelRosarioLaw handled for vessel interests)

Firm News – Saben Loyola named Partner of DelRosarioLaw

The firm proudly announces the promotion of Saben Loyola as a Partner of Del Rosario & Del Rosario Law Offices.  

Saben is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies and Bachelor of Science in Marketing Management from De La Salle University, Manila.  He took his Bachelor of Laws from San Beda College of Law, Mendiola, Manila (valedictorian and cum laude) and placed third in the 2003 bar exams.  Saben joined the Firm in July 2005 and his areas of expertise include general corporate law, mergers and acquisition, labor law and transportation litigation.

Our congratulations to Saben!

Other Firm News

DelRosarioLaw Partner Charles Dela Cruz was the Conference Chairman at the “Employment Law for HR Professionals, Masterclass 2017” held in Makati City on 3 May 2017.

The conference was organized by Key Media and attended by close to 100 top-level Human Resource and Legal practitioners across various industries. It covered legal/ operational challenges and opportunities in the context of the workplace.

DelRosarioLaw Partner Denise Luis B. Cabanos, was a speaker at Bocimar Fleet Officers’ Seminar in coordination with Anglo-Eastern Crew Management Phil., Inc. last 27 – 28 April 2017.  Denise discussed claims against Common Carriers due to cargo damage.

Many thanks for the invitation and look forward to meeting you all again.  

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2017 AsiaLaw Profiles:  Outstanding in Shipping, Maritime & Aviation; Recommended in Dispute Resolution  & Litigation, Insurance, Intellectual Property, Labour & Employment

“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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