Jebsens Maritime, Inc., et al. vs. Florving G. Rapiz
G.R. No, 218871. January 11, 2017
Jebsens Maritime, Inc. (Jebsens, et al), on behalf of its foreign principal, Sea Chefs, engaged the services of Rapiz to work on board the M/V Mercury as a buffet cook for a period of nine (9) months.
Sometime in September 2011, Florving Rapiz experienced excruciating pain and swelling on his right wrist/forearm while lifting a heavy load of meat. A consultation with the ship doctor revealed that Rapiz was suffering from severe “Tendovaginitis DeQuevain” which caused his medical repatriation since it was not possible for him to work without using his right forearm.
On October 14, 2011,9 Rapiz was repatriated to the Philippines and underwent consultation, medication, and therapy with the company-designated physician. After a lengthy treatment, the company-designated physician issued a 7th and Final Summary Medical Report and a Disability Grading 11 both dated January 24, 2012, diagnosing Rapiz with “Flexor Carpi Radialis Tendinitis, Right; Sprain, Right thumb; Extensor Carpi Ulnaris Tendinitis, Right,” and classifying his condition as a “Grade 11” disability pursuant to the disability grading provided for in the 2010 Philippine Overseas Employment Association-Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC).
Dissatisfied, Rapiz consulted an independent physician, who classified his condition as a Grade 10 disability. Thereafter, Rapiz requested Jebsens to pay him total and permanent disability benefits, which the latter did not heed, thus, constraining the former to file a Notice to Arbitrate before the NCMB. As the parties failed to amicably settle the case, the parties submitted the same to the VA for adjudication.
Rapiz argued, inter alia, that while both the company-designated and independent physicians gave him disability ratings of Grade 11 and 10, respectively, he is nevertheless entitled to permanent and total disability benefits as he was unable to work as a cook for a period of 120 days from his medical repatriation. On the other hand, Jebsens maintained that Rapiz is only entitled to Grade 11 disability benefits pursuant to the classification made by the company-designated physician.
The VA ruled in Rapiz’s favor and, accordingly, ordered Jebsens, et al to pay him permanent and total disability benefits in the amount of US$60,000.00 plus attorney’s fees in the amount ofUS$6,000.00 or their peso equivalent at the time of payment.
The VA found that Rapiz is entitled to permanent and total disability benefits, considering that: (a) he suffered his disability on his right hand while working at Jebsens, et al’ vessel; (b) he can no longer pursue his work on board the vessel as a cook due to the recurrent nature of his disability; and (c) such disability persisted beyond 120 days after his medical repatriation. The VA also found Rapiz to be entitled to attorney’s fees as he was forced to litigate to protect his rights and interest.
Jebsens, et al filed a motion for reconsideration, but the same was denied. Aggrieved, they appealed to the CA via a petition for review.
The CA affirmed the VA ruling. Similar to the VA’ s findings, the CA held that: (a) Rapiz’s disability should be considered permanent and total because he was unable to continue his work as a seaman for more than 120 days from his medical repatriation; and (b) he is entitled to attorney’s fees as he was forced to litigate and incur expenses to protect his rights and interests.
Jebsens, et al moved for reconsideration, which was, however, denied; hence, this petition.
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As early as January 24, 2012, or just 102 days from repatriation, the company-designated physician had already given his final assessment on Rapiz 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 Rapiz’s disability as merely permanent and partial -which was not refuted by the independent physician except that Rapiz’s condition was classified as a Grade 10 disability -it is plain error to award permanent and total disability benefits to Rapiz.
Moreover, per Rapiz’s contract with Jebsens, 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 ofthem. 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, Rapiz’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 the independent physician. As such, the award of US$60,000.00 representing Grade 1 (i.e., permanent and total disability) benefits in favor of Rapiz clearly has no basis and, consequently, must be struck down.
The findings of the company-designated physician should prevail, considering hat he examined, diagnosed, and treated Rapiz from his repatriation on October 14, 2011 until he was assessed with a Grade 11 disability rating on January 24, 2012; whereas the independent physician only examined him sparingly on March 13, 2012.
In Formerly INC Shipmanagement Incorporated (now INC Navigation Co. Philippines, Inc.) v. Rosales, the Court held that under these circumstances, 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.
In view of the foregoing, Rapiz is therefore entitled to permanent and partial disability benefits corresponding to a Grade 11 rating in the amount of US$7,465.00 or its peso equivalent at the time of payment, which shall then earn legal interest at the rate of six percent ( 6%) per annum from the finality of this Decision until fully paid.