Disability findings need to be made by the company physician within the period of 120 days. While extension up to 240 days is allowed, the company has to provide sufficient justification. Otherwise, the disability of the seafarer is deemed permanent and total.
Hence, the Supreme Court ruled as follows:
Grab a copy of the re-numbered and updated Labor Code 2017 by Atty. Villanueva
G.R. No. 218842, June 21, 2017
Petitioner Paulino M. Aldaba (Aldaba) was hired by respondents Career Philippines Shipmanagement Incorporated (CPSI), and Verlou Carmelina (CPSI, et al. collectively), in behalf of their foreign principal, Aldaba Columbia Shipmanagement Ltd., as Bosun for work on board the vessel M/V Cape Frio. In the course of the performance of his duties, Aldaba was accidentally hit by twisted chains made of heavy metal causing him to fall and eventually resulted in a back injury.
Thus, when the vessel was at the Port of Hongkong, Aldaba was examined at the Quality Health Care Medical Center by Dr. Thomas Wong, with the examination showing that he suffered a fractured back and was declared unfit to work. As such, he was immediately repatriated.
On April 11, 2011, upon his arrival in Manila, Aldaba was referred by CPSI, et al. to the company-designated physician at NGC Medical Specialist, Inc. for treatment and rehabilitation. The x-ray examination on his back showed a “misalignment of distal sacrum that may suggest fracture.” In addition, the x-ray examination on his thoracic spine revealed an “anterior wedging deformity, Tl 1 Osteopenia and early degenerative osseus changes.”
The company-designated physician, after the continuing evaluation and medical treatment for 163 days, issued a Medical Report stating that he had reached maximum medical cure.
Further, the medical report states that the final disability grading under the POEA schedule of disabilities is Grade 8 – moderate rigidity or two thirds (2/3) loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk.
Aldaba, on the other hand, consulted Dr. Misael Jonathan A. Tieman, an Orthopedic Surgeon and Diplomate, Philippine Board of Orthopedics, for an independent assessment of his medical condition and came out with findings showing that Aldaba’s injury resulted to his permanent disability, thus, making him unfit to work as a seafarer in any capacity. As a result, Aldaba demanded for total disability compensation, but CPSI, et al. did not heed such demand. CPSI, et al., however, expressed willingness to compensate Aldaba the amount corresponding to Grade 8 disability rating based on the medical findings of the company-designated physician.
Aggrieved, Aldaba filed a complaint for payment of total and permanent disability benefits, as well as medical expenses, with prayer for damages and attorney’s fees against CPSI, et al. with the Arbitration Board of the NLRC.
The Labor Arbiter decided in favor of CPSI, et al. holding that CPSI, et al. are jointly and severally liable to Aldaba for disability benefits in the amount of US$16,795.00 which is equivalent to Grade 8 under the POEA Contract, or its peso equivalent at the time of payment.
The NLRC reversed the Decision of the Labor Arbiter and ruled that Aldaba is entitled to a permanent total disability compensation
After CPSI, et al.’s motion for reconsideration was denied by the NLRC, they elevated the case to the CA.
The CA reversed the Decision of the NLRC and reinstated the Decision of the Labor Arbiter.
Whether or not the extension period to render disability findings from 120 days to 240 days requires sufficient justification or the findings after 120 days but before the 240 days by the company physician is conclusive nonetheless.
The SC found the petition meritorious.
The SC held that the rule on declaration of disability of seafarer provides that:
Citing the case of Edilburgh hipmanagement Phils., Inc. v. Quiogue, Jr., (G.R. No. 211882, July 29, 2015, 764 SCRA 430) the SC held that If the company-designated physician fails to give his assessment within the period of 120 days with a sufficient justification (e.g. seafarer required further medical treatment or seafarer was uncooperative), then the period of diagnosis and treatment shall be extended to 240 days. The employer has the burden to prove that the company-designated physician has sufficient justification to extend the period.
In the present case, the company-designated physician was only able to issue a certification declaring respondent to be entitled to a disability rating of Grade 8 on the 163rd day that Aldaba was undergoing continuous medical treatment, which is beyond the period of 120 days, without justifiable reason.
It must be remembered that the employer has the burden to prove that the company-designated physician has sufficient justification to extend the period. In this case, the CPSI, et al. failed to do so.
Therefore, the company-designated physician, failing to give his assessment within the period of 120 days, without justifiable reason, makes the disability of Aldaba permanent and total.