Death benefits to be granted, the heirs of seafarer must prove that the latter’s death was work-related. This is accomplished by establishing that: (a) the cause of death was reasonably connected to the seafarer’s work; or (b) the illness, which caused the seafarer’s death, is an occupational disease as defined in Section 32-A of the 2000 PO EA-SEC; or (c) the working conditions aggravated or exposed the seafarer to the disease, which caused his/her death.
Heirs of Marceliano N. Olorvida, Jr. represented by his wife, Necita D. Olorvida vs. BSM Crew Service Centre Philippines, Inc. and/or Bernhard Schulte Ship Management (CYPRUS) Ltd. and/or Narcissus L. Duran
G.R. No. 218330, June 27, 2018
Death benefits; Work-relatedness; Judicial notice of smoking as the main cause of lung cancer; End of employment term; Death that occurred after the term of employment due to lung cancer on account of smoking is not an exception to the rule that death benefit is due to a seafarer who died during the term of employment
Respondents BSM Crew Service Centre Philippines, Inc. (BSM Crew), its President, Narcissus L. Duran (Duran), and its foreign principal, Bernhard Schulte Ship Management (Cyprus) Limited (Bernhard Schulte) (collectively referred to as BSM Crew, et al.) employed Marceliano N. Olorvida, Jr. (Marceliano) as a seafarer from November 20, 2003 to November 11, 2009. During this period, Marceliano was assigned as a motorman on board various vessels, except for a certain period when he worked as a wiper.
Marceliano was hired as a motorman on board the vessel Cosco Vancouver, for a period of eight (8). He underwent a pre-employment medical examination, after which he was declared fit to work. Supposedly because of the stressful work conditions, Marceliano suffered from severe coughing, chest pains, and shortness of breath. He allegedly relayed his health conditions to his wife, Necita D. Olorvida (Necita), and the captain of Cosco Vancouver. However, the captain, according to Necita, merely advised Marceliano to rest and take cough medicines.
Allegedly, when Marceliano’ s contract of employment expired on November 11, 2009, he returned to the Philippines and reported his deteriorating health condition to BSM Crew immediately. Allegedly, Marceliano was not referred to a company-designated physician, which constrained him to seek medical attention at his own expense on January 22, 2010.
After numerous medical examinations, Marceliano was diagnosed with “Lung Adenocarcinoma Stage IV” (otherwise known as lung cancer) and “Brain Metastasis.” He later died on January 17, 2012 due to “Brain Herniation” secondary to “Brain Metastases.”
Thus, petitioner Necita, representing Marceliano’s heirs Necita filed a complaint for death benefits against a local manning agency, respondent BSM Crew, its President, Duran, and its foreign principal, Bernhard Schulte. They argued that the cause of Marceliano’ s death was a work-related illness. In particular, it was alleged that his work as a motorman exposed him to harmful substances that eventually caused his lung cancer. Their complaint also included a prayer for the payment of damages and attorney’s fees.
BSM Crew, et al., for their part, argued that the claim for death benefits is unmeritorious, primarily because Marceliano died after the term of his employment. They further posited that Marceliano’s diagnosis was not a work-related illness, and he failed to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement.
The LA rendered a Decision which dismissed Necita’s claim for lack of merit.
The LA ruled that the governing regulation at the time Marceliano and BSM Crew, et al. executed the employment contract was the 2000 Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Standard Employment Contract (SEC). As such, it is deemed written into the contract and the parties were bound to comply with its provisions. This includes the requirement provided under Section 20-B of the 2000 POEA-SEC, mandating the company-designated physician to medically examine the seafarer within three (3) days from repatriation. Marceliano’s failure to comply with this requirement was considered fatal to the claim for death benefits.
The LA further found that Necita was unable to substantiate their claim that Marceliano’s medical condition was immediately reported to BSM Crew, et al.. Furthermore, since it was undisputed that Marceliano was a smoker, the LA ruled that his illness was not work-related.
Aggrieved, Necita filed a Memorandum of Appeal with the NLRC.
The NLRC reversed the LA’s findings in its Decision and ruled favorably for Necita.
According to the NLRC, the mandatory reporting requirement is not the sole obligation of the seafarer. It is a reciprocal obligation that likewise requires the employer to conduct a meaningful and timely examination of the seafarer. Without evidence that the employee blatantly refused to present himself for post-employment medical examination, there is no basis to deny outright the claim for death benefits. The NLRC also ruled that Marceliano’s work as a motorman was the proximate cause of his lung cancer, because he was constantly exposed to the fumes and chemicals in the engine room of the sea vessel.
BSM Crew, et al. moved for the reconsideration of the NLRC’s decision. The NLRC, however, denied this motion. The NLRC issued an Entry of Judgment stating that its Resolution became final and executor.
Due to the unfavorable ruling of the NLRC, BSM Crew, et al. filed a petition for certiorari with the CA, with a prayer for the issuance of an injunctive writ. BSM Crew, et al. argued that since Necita admitted that Marceliano was a 37-pack year smoker, the NLRC gravely abused its discretion in ruling that his lung cancer was a work-related illness. They also disagreed with the NLRC’s decision as to the mandatory nature of the reporting requirement.
The CA granted BSM Crew, et al.’ petition for certiorari and reinstated the Decision of the LA.
The CA’s Decision agreed with the earlier ruling of the LA that the illness of Marceliano was not work-connected. According to the CA, it was undisputed that Marceliano was a 37-pack year smoker, who stopped smoking only in 2006, or five (5) years prior to his medical examination.
And, since there was no evidence that Marceliano reported his supposed symptoms to BSM Crew, et al. during the period of his employment, the CA rejected the argument that his lung cancer was caused by his prior occupation as a motorman. Necita filed a motion for reconsideration from this decision, which the CA denied.
Following this adverse ruling, Necita came to this Court via a Rule 45 petition, attributing grave errors on the part of the CA for reversing the decision of the NLRC.
Whether or not the death of a seafarer who was a self-confessed 37-pack a year smoker and later died of lung cancer can be deemed as work-related
Whether or not the return of the seafarer to the Philippines due to expiration of contract and later died of lung cancer can be deemed as an exception to the rule that death is compensable only when death occurred during term of employment
The Court denies the petition for utter lack of merit.
The applicable rule at the time BSM Crew, et al. employed Marceliano was the 2000 PO EA-SEC. Section 20(A) of the 2000 POEA-SEC sets down the guidelines for obtaining compensation in cases of a seafarer’s death. This provision thus placed the burden on the seafarer’s heirs to establish that: (a) the seafarer’s death was work-related; and (b) the death occurred during the term of employment. These are proven by substantial evidence, or such level of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as sufficient to support a conclusion.
The first requirement for claiming death benefits is to prove that the seafarer’s death was work-related. This is accomplished by establishing that: (a) the cause of death was reasonably connected to the seafarer’s work; or (b) the illness, which caused the seafarer’s death, is an occupational disease as defined in Section 32-A of the 2000 PO EA-SEC; or (c) the working conditions aggravated or exposed the seafarer to the disease, which caused his/her death.
According to the SC it is undisputed that Marceliano died of “Brain Herniation” as a result of his lung cancer. Lung cancer, however, is not one of the occupational diseases listed in Section 32-A of the 2000 POEA-SEC. Verily, there is a disputable presumption that the lung cancer of Marceliano was work-related. The burden is then shifted to BSM Crew, et al., as the employers, to overcome this presumption by substantial evidence. The Court’s ruling in Magsaysay Maritime Services, et al. vs. Laurel is instructive on this matter.
In the clinical abstract prepared by the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) at the time of Marceliano’s admission to the hospital, it was established that Marceliano was a heavy smoker prior to being diagnosed with lung cancer. This was corroborated by a later clinical abstract, when Marceliano was again admitted subsequently. This clinical abstract narrated Marceliano’s personal/social history as follows: “37 pack-year smoker, who stopped 5 years ago; (+)alcoholic beverage drinker.”
By virtue of these pieces of evidence, BSM Crew, et al. overcame the presumption that the lung cancer of Marceliano was work-related. Furthermore, the documentary evidence of Necita failed to establish a reasonable connection between Marceliano’ s work as a motorman and his lung cancer. The medical records specifically identified the intensity of Marceliano’s previous smoking habits in relation to his diagnosis. His work as a motorman-the alleged exposure to dangerous substances and exhaust-was not even mentioned as a contributing factor to his illness that caused his death.
The SC held that there is dearth of evidence showing the reasonable connection between the cause of Marceliano’ s death and his employment. The lung cancer of Marceliano was caused by his own smoking habits and not by his employment as a seafarer.
The second requirement for successfully claiming death benefits on behalf of the deceased seafarer is proof that the seafarer died during the term of his contract. As an exception to this rule, the heirs of a deceased seafarer may still receive the death benefits when the seafarer was medically repatriated on account of work-related injury or illness.
The death of Marceliano occurred way beyond the termination of his employment. His last employment contract with BSM Crew, et al. was for a period of eight (8) months, which started on January 7, 2009 and ended on November 11, 2009. He unfortunately died on January 17, 2012,61 or more than two (2) years after the end of his employment. For this reason, the SC refused to grant Necita’s claim for death benefits.
Neither is the exception applicable to the present case. When Marceliano returned to the Philippines, it was because his contract of employment has expired. He was not medically repatriated to the Philippines. As a matter of fact, he served the full term of his employment provided in the contract.
While Necita alleged that Marceliano has repeatedly complained to his wife Necita and to the captain regarding his deteriorating health on board the sea vessel, there are no records to support this claim. All of the documentary evidence submitted by Necita are medical documents, which are dated after Marceliano returned to the Philippines or, more precisely, after his employment ended on November 11, 2009. Hence, there is no basis for Necita’s claim for death benefits.
The SC has, in the past, taken judicial notice that the main cause of lung cancer is the use of tobacco through smoking cigarettes. Taken together with the medical records of Marceliano, the SC found no causal connection between Marceliano’s employment and his lung cancer. The evidence is inadequate to support Necita’s claim for death benefits. As such, the Court refused to simply assume that the working conditions of Marceliano made him susceptible to lung cancer.