Medical abandonment will result in incomplete assessment and the filing of complaint prior to the lapse of the 240-day period shall be premature.
Thus, the SC held in the September 25, 2017 case as follows:
C.F. Sharp Crew Management, Inc. vs. Noel N. Orbeta
G.R. No. 211111, September 25, 2017
Respondent Noel N. Orbeta was hired by petitioner C.F. Sharp Crew Management, Inc. (CF Sharp), on behalf of its foreign principal and co-petitioner herein, Gulf Energy Maritime (GEM), as Able Seaman on board the vessel “M/T Gulf Coral”. He thereafter boarded and thereupon commenced his work.
While on duty, Orbita, as he was closing the vessel’s air valve, slipped and fell on his back, and landed on the vessel’s metal floor. Thereafter, while the vessel was docked in the United Arab Emirates, Orbita was referred for medical examination after complaining of pain in his lower right abdomen, difficulty in passing urine, and slight irritation in the urinal area. After examination by a physician, he was diagnosed with acute lumbago and recommended for immediate repatriation.
On February 10, 2010, Orbita was repatriated and, upon arrival, he immediately reported for post-employment examination and treatment to the company-designated physician, to whom he disclosed the accident. He was placed under the care of an orthopedic surgeon, who found him to be suffering from “compression fracture, Ll, minimal.”
As a result, Orbita underwent physical therapy to rehabilitate his back, and was advised to wear a lumbar corset and undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the lumbosacral spine. For medication, he was given neuron enhancers and pain relievers.
After the MRI results came out, Orbita was temporarily diagnosed with “lumbosacral muscular spasm with mild spondylosis L3-L4;” the company-designated physician also concluded that there was no compression fracture, contrary to what was initially suspected. Orbita was thus given a Grade 10 partial disability rating pertaining to moderate rigidity of the truncal area. He was scheduled to undergo a bone scan on July 16, 2010.
Orbita failed to appear before the company physician for the scheduled bone scan; instead, it appears that he consulted with an independent orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Nicanor Escutin (Dr. Escutin), who prepared and signed a “Disability Report” giving him a permanent disability and that he is unfit for sea-duty in whatever capacity as a seaman.
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Dr. Escutin’s findings included a recommendation for Orbita to undergo Bone Scan and EMG-NCV15 to determine the exact problem on his lumbar spine, which is consistent with the recommendations of the company-designated physician.
Instead of following the respective medical opinions of his and the company-designated physician, as well as subjecting himself to the required bone scan and other tests to fully determine and treat his condition, Orbita filed on July 20, 2010 a complaint for payment of permanent and total disability benefits, medical expenses, damages, and attorney’s fees against C.F. Sharp et al. before the NLRC.
A Decision was rendered by Labor Arbiter Catalino R. Laderas granting disability benefits and attorney’s fees in favor of Orbita.
The LA disposed the case by finding Orbeta to be suffering from Disability Grade 6 and entitled to disability benefits in the amount of US$44,550.
C.F. Sharp et al. appealed to the NLRC.
The NLRC denied the appeal.
However, it modified the Decision of the LA by awarding the sum of US$89, 100.00 or its equivalent in Philippine Peso at the time of payment, representing his total and permanent disability benefits under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Orbita moved for reconsideration but it was denied. C.F. Sharp et al. filed a Petition for Certiorari before the CA.
The CA denied the petition and affirmed in toto the decision of the NLRC.
C.F. Sharp et al. moved for reconsideration but it was denied. Thus, the petition with the SC.
Whether or not permanent disability can be established despite the fact that the seafarer failed to complete the medical examination of the company-designated physician.
The SC partially granted the petition.
In New Filipino Maritime Agencies, Inc. v. Despabeladeras, it was held that a seafarer is guilty of medical abandonment for his failure to complete his treatment before the lapse of the 240-day period, which prevents the company physician from declaring him fit to work or assessing his disability.
Identical rulings were arrived at in Magsaysay Maritime Corporation v. National Labor Relations Commission and, more recently, in Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. v. Quillao. In said latter case, the SC held that the seafarer filed the complaint within the 240-day period while he was still under the care of the company-designated doctor.
Clearly, the Complaint was premature. He has no cause of action yet at the time of its filing as the company-designated doctor has no opportunity to definitely assess his condition because he was still undergoing treatment; and the 240-day period had not lapsed.