Death benefit accrues to the seafarer who dies during terms of service. If it occurs after the expiration of his contract it does not apply, as a general rule.

Wallem Philippines Services, Inc. and Wallem Ship Managment, Ltd. Vs. Heirs of the late Peter Padrones
G.R. No. 183212, March 16, 2015


Peter Padrones (Padrones) was employed as a “motorman” by petitioners on board the vessel M/V “Spirit”. He finished his contract and was repatriated to the Philippines after completion thereof.

Padrones died of cardio-respiratory arrest brought about by complications of lung cancer.

Get a re-numbered copy of the Labor Code 2017

Thereafter, or on July 18, 2001, herein respondents, filed with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) a Complaint against petitioners for recovery of death benefits, exemplary and moral damages, child allowance, burial expenses and attorney’s fees arising from the death of Padrones. In their Position Paper, respondents alleged that Padrones’ death is compensable because the cause of such death was aggravated by tuberculosis, an illness which he acquired during the existence of his contract.

LA Ruling:

The Labor Arbiter (LA) handling the case rendered judgment in favor of herein respondents.

Aggrieved, petitioners filed an appeal with the NLRC contending that, contrary to the claims of respondents that Padrones died of tuberculosis, he, in fact, died of lung cancer. Petitioners also argued that Padrones’ death is not compensable because he did not die during the effectivity of his contract; instead, he died one year and five months after his employment contract expired and that his death was due to an illness which was not related to nor contracted from his employment.

NLRC Ruling:

The NLRC promulgated its Decision reversing the Decision of the LA and dismissing respondents’ complaint for lack of merit holding in main that Padronas’ employment contract expired on October 30, 1999, but was repatriated on November 23, 1999; Mr. Padrones, the seafarer died on April 25, 2001. Clearly, the employment contract was no longer in force when the seafarer died. Applying the POEA SEC [Standard Employment Contract], complainants are not entitled to death benefits.

Respondents filed a Motion for Reconsideration, but the NLRC denied it.

Respondents then filed a special civil action for certiorari with the CA contending that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion in reversing the decision of the LA which granted death benefits in their favor.

CA Ruling:

The CA ruled in respondents’ favor. The CA held that, while respondents are not entitled to death benefits, they should be paid disability benefits which has accrued in favor of Padrones prior to his death.

Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration, but the CA denied it.


Whether or not a seafarer who died after expiration of the contract is entitled to death benefits

Whether or not the Decision of the Court based on disability theory not pleaded in the case is valid.

SC Ruling:

The SC found the petition meritorious.

The SC held that it is clear that for the death of a seafarer to be compensable, the same must occur during the term of his contract of employment. If the seaman dies after the termination of his contract, his beneficiaries are not entitled to death benefits.

In the instant case, Padrones’ employment contract ended on November 23, 1999. He died on April 25, 2001, more than one (1) year and five (5) months from the time his employment contract expired. It, therefore, follows that respondents, who are the beneficiaries of Padrones, are not entitled to death benefits.

Even if the Court were to consider the possibility of compensation for the death of Padrones after the termination of his employment contract on account of a work-related illness, respondents, nonetheless, did not present evidence to prove that he acquired lung cancer during his employment and that the said disease, which caused his death, was the reason for the termination of his contract. On the contrary, respondents claimed that Padrones was afflicted only with tuberculosis during his employment. In fact, they even failed to present substantial evidence to show that Padrones acquired this illness while he was employed nor were they able to prove their contention that it contributed to his death.

Not being entitled to death benefits, the question that follows now is whether respondents are, instead, entitled to the disability benefits awarded by the CA. The SC held no.

Respondents did not seek payment of disability benefits in their Complaint, Position Paper, Reply, Rejoinder, and Memorandum filed with the LA.

Settled is the rule that, in this jurisdiction, a party cannot change his theory of the case or his cause of action on appeal. It affirms that courts of justice have no jurisdiction or power to decide a question not in issue. Thus, a judgment that goes beyond the issues and purports to adjudicate something on which the court did not hear the parties, is not only irregular but also extrajudicial and invalid.

The rule rests on the fundamental tenets of fair play. The exception to this rule is when the factual bases thereof would not require presentation of any further evidence by the adverse party in order to enable it to properly meet the issue raised in the new theory. In such a case, the court may give due course to the petition and resolve the principal issues raised therein.

The instant case does not fall under this exception. To stress, the issue of whether or not Padrones or respondents, as his heirs, are entitled to disability benefits is a factual question that was never alleged, let alone proven before the LA, the NLRC and the CA. Understandably, petitioners did not present evidence before the lower tribunals to refute respondents’ alleged entitlement to disability benefits because this was never an issue. It was only after the CA has awarded them disability benefits that respondents changed their theory by claiming that they are indeed entitled to such benefits instead of death benefits. Thus, respondents’ belated change of their theory of the case should be disallowed and the instant petition granted.

error: Content is protected !!