SC Affirms Labor Arbiter Dismissing Seafarer's Claim for Disability Benefits

          In an August 2012 decision, the Supreme Court affirms the decision of the Labor Arbiter in dismissing the claim of petitioner-OFW for disability benefits.

           “While the provisions of the POEA-SEC are liberally construed in favor the well-being of OFW, claims for compensation which hinge on surmises must still be denied, as in this case”, the Supreme Court said.

          During the course of employment of petitioner as Cook A on board the vessel, he experienced chest pains and leg cramps. When the vessel reached Florida, he was sent to hospital for a medical check-up, electrocardiogram (ECG) and chest x-ray. The tests revealed abnormal findings with the corresponding recommendation that petitioner consult a cardiologist, which caused him thereafter to medically repatriated.

          Upon repatriation, petitioner was referred to respondents’ physician for a medical examination and was diagnosed to be suffering from enlargement of the heart and hypertension.  For two months, he underwent a series of treatment at respondents’ expense.  Thereafter, petitioner was declared fit to return to work since the diagnosis of the company-designated physician already showed controlled hypertension. Petitioner thereafter executed a release and quitclaim in favor of respondents wherein he acknowledged receipt of US$1,136.67 corresponding to his sickness allowance, thereby releasing his employer from future claims and actions.

          Despite the execution of the quitclaim, petitioner filed a complaint to claim full disability benefits, and claimed that his illness continued to worsen despite the fit to work assessment of the company-designated physician, rendering him unfit for sea service and entitling him to total and permanent disability compensation, as evidenced by medical certificate issued by private doctors.

          During the proceedings before the Labor Arbiter, the latter dismissed the complaint of the petitioner considering that the certifications he presented do not outweigh the company-designated physician’s fit to work assessment.

          According to the Labor Arbiter, the certifications of disability issue by the petitioner’s physicians were made long after he was declared fit to work and were based only on petitioner’s single consultation with each of them. In contrast, respondents dutifully complied with their obligations under the employment contract by providing petitioner with medical assistance at the foreign port, repatriating him at their expense, providing him with medical examination and treatment, paying his sickness allowance, and assessing him to be fit to return to work.

          "The medical reports of petitioner’s physicians do not deserve any credence as against fit to work assessment of the company-designated physician,” the Supreme Court said.

          “It is explicit and clear that for purposes of determining the seafarer’s degree of disability, it is the company-designated physician who must proclaim that he sustained a permanent disability, whether total or partial, due to either injury or illness, during the term of his employment,” the Supreme Court added. (Ison vs. Crewserve, Inc., et. al., G.R. No. 173951, April 16, 2012)




Research, Information and Publications Division

National Labor Relations Commission