Permanent disability may arise due to illness or injury suffered by a seafarer under certain conditions. The company physician may declare the seafarer permanently disabled within 120 days.
However, once declared unfit for work, the seafarer who subsequently recovers after 120 days from repatriation may still be declared permanently disabled as held by the Court:
Maunland Trans., Inc./Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., and Mr. Amado L. Castro, Jr. vs. Rodolfo M. Camoral
G.R. No. 211454, February 11, 2015
Camoral was continuously deployed overseas for 18 years by Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., a foreign shipping company, through its local agent, Maunlad Trans., Inc. (petitioners). In April 2009, they took him on board M/S Carnival Sensation as ice carver for a period of eight months, the company doctors having declared him “Fit for Sea Duty (Without Restriction)” after the requisite physical evaluations.
As ice carver, Camoral’s job required lifting and carrying heavy blocks of ice and using heavy equipment and tools, working for hours inside the freezer in sub-zero temperature. One day while at work, he suddenly felt excruciating pain in his neck. The pain quickly radiated to his shoulder, chest and hands. It became so intense that he dropped to the floor. Pain relievers could not relieve the pain, and the ship’s doctor advised the Chief Chef that Camoral was unfit for further duty on board. On advice of the company doctor in Florida, United States of America, Dr. James E. Carter (Dr. Carter), a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan was performed on Camoral’s cervical spine.
In his medical report, Dr. Carter found Camoral with “Cervical Disc Herniation and Radiculopathy” and declared him “unfit for duty”. Camoral was repatriated on October 4, 2009, and on arrival in Manila he was referred to company doctors at the Marine Medical Services of the Metropolitan Medical Center. On October 26, 2009, he underwent a surgical procedure known as “Anterior C5 Discectomy Fusion with Pyramidal Cage and Mastergraft Putting, Plating.”
In the Operation Sheet, his pre-operative and post-operative diagnosis showed “Cervical Spondylotic Radiculopathy secondary to C4-C5, C5-C6 Disc Protrusion,” while the portion on “Description of Organs” stated that he had a “compressed end at C4-5 to C5-6 level and thickened posterior ligaments.” He underwent rigorous physical therapy, but after more than five months his condition barely improved, and the pain in his neck, chest and shoulder persisted.
He then consulted Dr. Rogelio P. Catapang, Jr. (Dr. Catapang), a renowned Orthopaedic and Traumatology Surgeon, who after a thorough clinical and physical examination of Camoral issued a report on February 22, 2010 declaring him to have lost his pre-injury capacity and is UNFIT to work back at his previous occupation as a seafarer.
Camoral failed to get further financial assistance from Maunlad Trans, et al for his subsequent treatment and medications, as well as total disability benefits. He was instead offered $10,075.00 corresponding to Grade 10 disability the company gave him. With no income for more than 120 days and having been declared unfit to return to his previous job due to loss of his pre-injury capacity, he sued Maunlad Trans, et al before the LA for total disability benefits of US$60,000.00.
LA rendered judgment holding that the Grade 10 disability made by the company physician is not binding to it as it is clear that complainant can no longer return to work.
Maunlad Trans, et al appealed to the NLRC, which however denied the same in its Decision. Maunlad Trans, et al’ Motion for Reconsideration was denied.
On petition for certiorari to the CA, Maunlad Trans, et al insisted that regardless of whether the disability is total or partial, any compensation should be based on the grading provided in the POEA SEC, which in this case is Grade 10 disability as assessed by the company doctors.
But the appellate court upheld the NLRC, ruling that firstly, Section 20 of POEA SEC, which is deemed written into the seafarer’s contract, provides for the minimum requirements acceptable to the government before it approves the deployment of Filipino seafarers on foreign ocean-going vessels, and that secondly, the two elements required for an injury or illness to be compensable concurred in the case: a) the injury or illness is work related, and b) and it occurred during the term of the seafarer’s contract
Whether or not the seafarer who was declared unfit to work but recovered after the 120 day period is entitled to permanent disability benefit.
The SC did not find merit in the petition.
Maunlad Trans, et al admit in their petition that on the 150th day of Camoral’s treatment, March 5, 2010, his maximum medical cure or recovery was reached, at which time he was finally assessed with a Grade 10 disability, with moderate stiffness, or one-third limitation of motion of the neck. Thereafter, Maunlad Trans, et al refused further medical assistance and offered him $10,075.00 as partial permanent disability benefit, which Camoral however declined, insisting that his disability is total and permanent.
Camoral’s treatment extended beyond 120 days and although the maximum cure was attained, both the company doctor and Camoral’s private doctor agreed that in his condition he could no longer return to his job as ice carver. Significantly, the company’s neuro-spine surgeon, Dr. Sih, in her letter-bulletin particularly noted that “considering the patient’s nature of work (entailing heavy weight lifting), he is assessed to be disabled/not fit to go back to work.” Camoral’s own physician, Dr. Catapang, found that he continued to complain and suffer from neck pain despite continuous therapy, and the pain is made worse by neck rotation, something that obviously cannot be prevented in a manual occupation, and he concluded that Camoral has lost his pre-injury capacity and is UNFIT to work back at his previous occupation as a seafarer.
In the case of Kestrel Shipping Co., Inc. vs. Munar (G.R. No. 198501, January 30, 2013, 689 SCRA 795) disability is total and permanent if as a result of the injury or sickness the employee is unable to perform any gainful occupation for a continuous period exceeding 120 days, except as otherwise provided under Rule X of these Rules.
Thus, according to Kestrel, while the seafarer is partially injured or disabled, he must not be precluded from earning doing the same work he had before his injury or disability or that he is accustomed or trained to do. Otherwise, if his illness or injury prevents him from engaging in gainful employment for more than 120 days or 240 days, as is the case here, then he shall be deemed totally and permanently disabled.
In Crystal Shipping, Inc. v. Natividad, the Court specifically ruled that it is of no consequence that he recovered, for what is important is that he was unable to perform his customary work for more than 120 days, and this constitutes permanent total disability.