The seafarer filed the labor case on May 14, 2010 – or just 110 days from his repatriation on January 23, 2010 – before the 120/240-day periods allowed under the Labor Code could elapse, and before the company-designated physician could render a definite assessment of his medical condition. For this reason, the filing of the labor case was premature.
Maunlad Trans, Inc., et al. vs. Rodelas
G.R. No. 225705m April 1, 2019
Premature claim; Medical abandonment; Abandoning treatment; By failing to continue with the treatment prescribed by the company-designated physician and instead filing the labor case before the expiration of the 120-day period, the seafarer violated the law and his contract with the company; In filing the labor case before the company-designated physician could render a definite assessment of his medical condition the filing of the labor case by the seafarer was premature; Breach of contract and the law erases the seafarer’s benefit under the law
Respondent Romeo Rodelas, Jr. (Rodelas) was hired by petitioner Seachest, through its manning agent, Maunlad, as Galley Steward on-board MV Carnival. After several months, Rodelas started experiencing seasickness and extreme low back pains. Despite medications administered by the ship’s clinic, the pain persisted and extended down to his left thigh.
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Subsequently, Rodelas was repatriated and arrived in the Philippines on 23 January 2010. He reported to petitioner Maunlad and was referred to the Metropolitan Hospital where he underwent physical therapy sessions, among others, and was diagnosed with ‘lumbar spondylosis with disc extrusion, L3-L4.’
Rodelas was advised to undergo surgery, spine laminectomy, but did not approve of the same and instead underwent physical therapy sessions. According to his, as per Maunlad’s medical doctors, surgery was not a guarantee on the return of his normal condition, thus, he refused.
On 6 May 2010, Rodelas returned for a follow-up, and the report on his condition stated that he needed to continue rehabilitation with suggested disability grading of Grade 8 – 2/3 loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk. The report also mentioned that he needed to come back after 3 weeks.
As Rodelas’ condition did not improve for purposes of resuming his regular duties as a seafarer, he filed a Complaint on 14 May 2010 for total and permanent disability, reimbursement of medical and transportation expenses, damages, attorney’s fees and legal interest against Maunlad, et al.
The LA ruled in favor of Rodleas.
The LA held that: 1) the assessment of the company-designated physician giving a Grade 8 disability rating was premature, made only to comply with the 120-day period as mandated in the POEA Contract; and 2) the work-related disability incurred by Rodelas prevented him from seeking employment and thus, he was entitled to the payment of permanent disability benefits.
Maunlad, et al. appealed the said Decision to the NLRC.
However, the NLRC affirmed the findings of the Labor Arbiter in its first assailed Resolution. Maunlad, et al. filed a Motion for Reconsideration but the same was likewise denied by the NLRC in its second assailed Resolution.
Maunlad, et al filed a Petition for Certiorari.
The CA dismissed the Certiorari.
The CA held that the company-designated physician failed to arrive at a definite assessment of Rodelas’ fitness or disability within the 120/240-day periods provided under the law. The company-designated physician’s last report on Rodelas’ condition which “suggested” a disability grading of “Grade 8 -213 loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk” is not a final or definite assessment of his fitness or disability because Rodelas was still required to return after three weeks for further examination.
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Regardless of the fact that Rodelas was required to return for further examination, the statutory 120/240-day periods would have elapsed without Rodelas being issued either a final and definitive disability assessment or a fit-to-work certification. Further, Rodelas’ condition would not have improved even with the prescribed surgery, which he refused to undergo, because as admitted by the company-designated physician it did not guarantee improvement of Rodelas’s condition. Rodelas is still unable to resume his regular sea duties, his inability to find work continues, and he was not re-employed by Maunlad, et al.
Further, with the lapse of the statutory 120/240-day periods without Rodelas having gone back to work, he is deemed totally and permanently disabled.
Maunlad, et al. moved to reconsider but the CA stood its ground. Hence, the petition before the SC.
Whether or not the filing of the disability case before the lapse of the 125-day period in view of the suggested rating of 8 was premature
Whether or not the company is liable for not re-hiring the seafarer who was given the mere “suggested disability rating”
Whether or not the opinion of the seafarer that even surgery will not guarantee that his condition would return to normal gives the right to disregard the recommended medical treatment
The SC granted the Petition.
The SC found that the company-designated physician assessed Rodelas’ condition as a “Grade 8 -213 loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk” and advised him to return for rehabilitation after three weeks. However, on May 14, 2010, Rodelas filed the instant labor case for total and permanent disability benefits, reimbursement of medical and transportation expenses, damages, attorney’s fees and legal interest against Maunlad, et al. He did not return to the company-designated physician to continue with the latter’s prescribed treatment.
By failing to continue with the treatment prescribed by the company-designated physician and instead by filing the labor case before the expiration of the 120-day period, Rodelas violated the law and his contract with Maunlad, et al.; he was guilty of abandoning his treatment.
He filed the labor case on May 14, 2010 – or just 110 days from his repatriation on January 23, 2010 – before the 120/240-day periods allowed under the Labor Code could elapse, and before the company-designated physician could render a definite assessment of his medical condition. For this reason, the filing of the labor case was premature.
The situation in the instant case is no different from that in CF Sharp Crew Management, Inc. vs. Orbeta. In said case, the complainant seaman also suffered a back injury, and while undergoing treatment for 126 days, he filed a labor case against his employer and thus abandoned his ongoing treatment. In New Filipino Maritime Agencies, Inc. vs. Despabeladeras, this Court 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 vs. National Labor Relations Commission and, more recently, in Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. vs. Quillao where 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. Rodelas 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.
The Labor Code provides a procedure for conflict resolution covering disputes of the nature involved in the present case; a failure to observe said procedure is fatal. The SC, quoting in part Section 20(D) of the POEA-SEC, held that no compensation and benefits shall be payable in respect of any injury, incapacity, disability or death of the seafarer resulting from his willful or criminal act or intentional breach of his duties.
The fact that Rodelas was not re-hired by Maunlad, et al. has no bearing, considering that the former violated his contract and the law. Simply put, Rodelas may not be rewarded – for violating the law and his contract – with a grant of permanent and total disability benefits. This would set a wrong precedent for others to follow. While the Court looks at the cause of labor with a compassionate eye, it must not necessarily turn blind and completely ignore the rights of the employer; the law and justice should always prevail.
As for the argument that even surgery is not a guarantee that Rodelas’ condition will return to normal, this does not entitle him to the indemnity he seeks; the fact remains that he violated his contract and the law. His infraction erased any benefit he may have derived from such argument; besides, while this is a medical opinion shared by the company-designated physician, the Court is free to rely on it or discard it altogether.
Without the seafarer undergoing the prescribed 120/240-day periods for treatment, his employer is deprived of the opportunity to assist him in finding a cure for his condition and thus minimize any legal and pecuniary liability it may be held answerable for. At the same time, there is no way of assessing the seafarer’s medical condition with finality; without this assessment, corresponding indemnity is forthcoming – understandably. That is why the seafarer must subject himself to treatment as prescribed by the law and the standard POEA contract; this requirement is patently for his benefit in all respects.
The Grade 8 assessment of the company-designated physician therefore stands, and for this, Rodelas is entitled only to the equivalent monetary benefit of US$16,795.00 pursuant to the schedule of disability benefits under the POEA Standard Employment Contract.