Disability benefits can be awarded only when disability is compensable under the above POEA-SEC. Two elements must concur for disability to be compensable: (1) the injury or illness must be work-related; and (2) the work-related injury or illness must have existed during the term of the seafarer’s employment contract.
Loadstar International Shipping, Inc. vs. Ernesto Awiten Yamson, et al.
G.R. No. 228470, April 23, 2018
Work-relatedness; Compensability; Burden of proof; PEME
Petitioner Loadstar International Shipping, Inc. (Loadstar) is a domestic corporation engaged in the shipping business. It employed the services of respondent Ernesto Yamson (Ernesto) as Third Mate aboard the vessel “M/V Foxhound” for a period of twelve (12) months.
Ernesto commenced his employment on board “M/V Foxhound”. His contract was subsequently extended.
Thereafter, when the vessel was anchored in Papua New Guinea, Ernesto felt dizzy. In the evening of the same day, Ernesto started to feel the left side of his body getting numb. Around 9 o’clock of the following morning, Ernesto already felt very weak while performing his duties. He requested that his blood pressure be checked and that his condition be reported to the ship captain. Thereafter, he was ordered to rest in his cabin.
However, his condition deteriorated as he could no longer move the left side of his body in the evening of the same day. His predicament worsened when he suffered from LBM the next day forcing him to request that he be brought to the hospital. Ernesto was, thus, brought to the Pacific International Hospital in Papua New Guinea where he was confined and was diagnosed to have suffered from cerebrovascular disease: “left cerebellar infarct” and hypertension, Stage 2. The attending physician ordered him to cease from working for a period of two (2) weeks.
Subsequently, on December 1, 2013, Ernesto was repatriated to the Philippines. Upon arrival in Manila, he was immediately brought to the Philippine General Hospital where he underwent medical check-up. Finding that he was in a stable condition, the examining doctor sent him home as he was classified as an “out-patient.” However, Ernesto continued to experience headache and numbness of the entire left side of his body even after arriving home.
This prompted his wife to insist that he be admitted in a private hospital. Thus, Ernesto was admitted at the Manila Doctor’s Hospital where he underwent CT scans of the head and heart. In his letter addressed to Loadstar, the company-physician reported that the result of the CT scan conducted on Ernesto showed, among others, that he has an “old infarct in the left superior aspect of the left cerebellum.”
Thereafter, Ernesto was discharged from the hospital. Subsequently, he consulted another physician who diagnosed him to be suffering from Hypertensive Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease and Cerebrovascular Disease and was advised to cease from working as a seaman due to his neurologic deficits.
On the basis of the findings of his own doctor, Ernesto filed a complaint praying that he be awarded the following: US$60,000.00 as total and permanent disability benefits; sickness allowance equivalent to 120 days; medical and transportation expenses in the amount of P62,514.64; P100,000.00 as moral damages; P100,000.00 as exemplary damages; and, 10% of the total judgment award as attorney’s fees.
The Labor Arbiter (LA) rendered a Decision in petitioner’s favor by dismissing the complaint for lack of merit. Respondent appealed the Decision of the LA to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).
The NLRC partly granted the appeal.
The NLRC affirmed with modification the LA Decision and ordered Loadstar to pay complainant the following: 1. Sickness allowance in the amount of US$2,328.00 2. Medical and transportation expenses in the amount of P31,738.18. The NLRC dismissed all other claims for lack of merit.
Feeling aggrieved, both parties filed with the CA separate special civil actions for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court questioning the Decision of the NLRC.
The Court of Appeals (CA) reversed and set aside the NLRC.
Loadstar filed a Motion for Reconsideration but the CA denied the same. Thus, the petition before the SC.
Whether or not there is substantial evidence to show that the seafarer’s work conditions caused, or at the least increased the risk of contracting his illness
Whether or not Certificate a mere summary and generalization of seafarer’s medical history and condition based on a one-time consultation is sufficient basis to establish entitlement to compensation and disability benefits
Whether or not the PEME which does not show reveal any illness prior to deployment is conclusive proof that the seafarer had no pre-existing medical conditions
The Supreme Court (SC) granted the petition but ordered the payment of financial assistance of P75,000.00 to the heirs of Ernesto.
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The SC held that for disability to be compensable under the above POEA-SEC, two elements must concur: (1) the injury or illness must be work-related; and (2) the work-related injury or illness must have existed during the term of the seafarer’s employment contract.
To be entitled to compensation and benefits under the governing POEA-SEC, it is not sufficient to establish that the seafarer’s illness or injury has rendered him permanently or partially disabled. It must also be shown that there is a causal connection between the seafarer’s illness or injury and the work for which he had been contracted.
While the law recognizes that an illness may be disputably presumed to be work-related, prevailing jurisprudence requires that the seafarer or the claimant must still show a reasonable connection between the nature of work on board the vessel and the illness contracted or aggravated. Thus, the burden is placed upon the claimant to present substantial evidence that his work conditions caused or at least increased the risk of contracting the disease.
In this case, however, Ernesto was unable to present substantial evidence to show that his work conditions caused, or at the least increased the risk of contracting his illness. Neither was he able to prove that his illness was pre-existing and that it was aggravated by the nature of his employment.
There is no evidence to prove that the findings of Ernesto’s private physician, Dr. Joel Carlos, were reached based on an extensive or comprehensive examination of Ernesto. Aside from the above Medical Certificate, Ernesto failed to present competent evidence to prove that he was thoroughly examined by Dr. Carlos. No proof was shown that laboratory or diagnostic tests nor procedures were taken. In fact, Dr. Carlos did not specify the medications he prescribed and the type of medical management he made to treat Ernesto’s condition.
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Dr. Carlos did not sufficiently justify his conclusions that Ernesto’s illnesses started at work or and that, by reason of such illnesses, Ernesto was no longer fit to work. At most, the said Medical Certificate is a mere summary and generalization of Ernesto’s medical history and condition based on a one-time consultation. Indeed, Dr. Carlos indicated therein that he examined Ernesto on March 8, 2014. However, a cursory reading of the said Medical Certificate shows that the same was issued on the same day. This only proves that Ernesto was under the care of Dr. Carlos for only one day, without any indication whether Ernesto consulted him previously.
While probability and not ultimate degree of certainty is the test of proof in compensation proceedings, it cannot be gainsaid, however, that award of compensation and disability benefits cannot rest on speculations, presumptions and conjectures. Ernesto failed to demonstrate that he was subjected to any unusual and extraordinary physical or mental strain or event that may have triggered his stroke.
Further, the SC held that the PEME is not exploratory and does not allow the employer to discover any and all pre-existing medical conditions with which the seafarer is suffering and for which he may be presently taking medication. The PEME is nothing more than a summary examination of the seafarer’s physiological condition. It merely determines whether one is “fit to work” at sea or “fit for sea service” and it does not state the real state of health of an applicant. The “fit to work” declaration in the PEME cannot be a conclusive proof to show that he was free from any ailment prior to his deployment.
The pre-existence of an illness does not irrevocably bar compensability because disability laws still grant the same provided the seafarer’s working conditions bear causal connection with his illness. These rules, however, cannot be asserted perfunctorily by the claimant as it is incumbent upon him to prove, by substantial evidence, as to how and why the nature of his work and working conditions contributed to and/or aggravated his illness.
However, Ernesto failed to discharge this burden of proof. His claims are mere general statements presented as self-serving allegations which were not validated by any written document or any other evidence visibly demonstrating that the working conditions on board the vessel “M/V Foxhound” served to cause or worsen his illnesses.