Assessment by the company-designated physician should be final and definitive. Without a valid final and definitive assessment from the company-designated doctors within the 120/240-day period, as in this case, the law already steps in to consider a seafarer’s disability as total and permanent. By operation of law, therefore, petitioner is already totally and permanently disabled.
Lemoncito vs. BSM Crew Service Centre Philippines, Inc.
G.R. No. 247409. February 3, 2020
Total and Permanent Disability; Final and definitive assessment; Without a valid final and definitive assessment from the company-designated doctors within the 120/240-day period, the law already steps in to consider a seafarer’s disability as total and permanent
Respondents BSM Crew Service Centre Philippines, Inc. (BSM), on behalf of its principal respondent Bernard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSS) [Collectively referred to in this digest as BSM, et al.], hired Lemoncito Michael Angelo Lemoncito (Lemoncito) as a motor man for a duration of nine (9) months. Lemoncito was covered by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between International Maritime Employees’ Council and Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines. After being declared fit to work, Lemoncito boarded MV British Ruby on July 22, 2015.
While on board, Lemoncito complained of fever and cough productive of whitish phlegm and throat discomfort. His blood pressure reached 173/111, for which he was given medication. On February 22, 2016, he was medically repatriated. On February 26, 2016, he was referred to the Marine Medical Services under the care of company-designated doctors Percival Pangilinan and Dennis Jose Sulit.
After a series of tests, he was diagnosed with lower respiratory tract infection and hypertension. He was given an interim disability assessment of Grade 12 -“slight, residual or disorder.” The company-designated doctors opined that Lemoncito’s hypertension was not work-related. His hypertension had multifactorial causes: genetics, predisposition, poor lifestyle, high salt intake, smoking, diabetes mellitus and “increased sympathetic activities.”
On July 1, 2016, the company-designated doctors issued their 16th and final report where they noted that Lemoncito had been previously cleared of his lower respiratory tract infection and that his hypertension was responding to medication.
Disagreeing with conclusions of the company-designated doctors, Lemoncito consulted Dr. Antonio Pascual, who issued a Medical Report dated September 12, 2016. Dr. Pascual certified that Lemoncito had I) Hypertensive Heart Disease, Stage 2; and 2) Degenerative Osteoarthritis, Thoracic Spine. Consequently, Dr. Pascual declared Lemoncito “unfit to work as a seaman.”
On the basis of Dr. Pascual’s certification, Lemoncito invoked the grievance procedure embodied in the CBA and lodged a complaint for total permanent disability benefits, sickness allowance, damages and attorney’s fees before the Panel of Voluntary Arbitrators.
BSM, et al. contend that Lemoncito failed to observe the third-doctor-referral rule under the POEA-SEC when he independently consulted his physician, Dr. Pascual. Lemoncito replied that If there is a conflict between the findings of the company-designated doctor and the seafarer’s doctor, that which is favorable to the seafarer should be upheld. He was totally and permanently disabled considering that more than seven (7) months had passed since he failed to resume his duties as seaman.
The Panel of Voluntary Arbitrators (PVA) found Lemoncito to be totally and permanently disabled. His hypertension was presumed to be work-related.
Lemoncito’s non-compliance with the third-doctor-referral rule should not be taken against him because the company-designated doctors failed to make a fitness assessment within the required 120-day period. Besides, records showed that Lemoncito was unable to obtain gainful employment during the 240-day assessment period.
BSM, et al.’s motion for reconsideration was, subsequently, denied. Lemoncito filed a Petition for Review before the Court of Appeals (CA).
The Court of Appeals reversed.
It held that the findings of the company-designated doctors were more credible and Lemoncito failed to prove by substantial evidence that he was totally and permanently disabled. In case of conflict between the findings of the company-designated doctors and the seafarer’s doctor, the procedure embodied in the POEA-SEC should be observed.
It is also up to the labor tribunals and the courts to assess which of the assessments is more credible. Since the company-designated doctors had more detailed knowledge of Lemoncito’s condition, their assessment was more credible. Lemoncito’s failure to return to his employment within the 120-day period did not automatically entitle him to total and permanent disability benefits. Besides, the company-designated doctors were able to make their final assessment that Lemoncito was fit to work within the 240-day assessment period.
Lemoncito’s motion for reconsideration was denied. The Lemoncito went to the Supreme Court (SC).
Whether or not the phrase “Lemoncito’s blood pressure is adequately controlled with medications” found in the medical assessment is too generic and equivocal rendering it not final and definitive
Whether or not the phrase “patient is now cleared cardiac wise” found in the medical assessment does not provide too much information rendering the assessment not final and definitive
Whether or not there is an obligation on the part of the seafarer to resort to the third doctor if the medical assessment is not final and definitive
The SC granted the petition.
The SC held that on its face, there was no categorical statement that Lemoncito is fit or unfit to resume his work as a seaman. It simply stated: a) Lemoncito was previously cleared of his lower respiratory tract infection; b) Lemoncito’s blood pressure is adequately controlled with medications; and c) Lemoncito was cleared cardiac wise as of July 1, 2016.
In other words, this assessment is incomplete, nay, inconclusive. In fact, this medical report leaves more questions than answers.
For instance, the phrase “Lemoncito’s blood pressure is adequately controlled with medications” is too generic and equivocal. It does not give a clear picture of the state of Lemoncito’s health nor does it give a thorough insight into Lemoncito’s fitness or unfitness to resume his duties as a seafarer. Do they mean that since his hypertension can now be controlled by medications he is already fit to resume his work? Or do they mean that though his hypertension can now be controlled, he still needs constant monitoring? No one knows.
Likewise, the phrase “patient is now cleared cardiac wise” does not provide much infonnation. Does it mean that since he is cleared of any cardiac disease, he is already fit to work as a seafarer? Or does it mean that though he is cleared of any cardiac disease as of July 1, 2016, he still needs further monitoring? Does being cleared of any cardiac disease automatically mean Lemoncito has a clean bill of health? The report does not say.
Undoubtedly, the Medical Report dated July 1, 2016 is not complete and adequate, therefore, it must be ignored. Ampo-on vs. Reinier Pacific International Shipping, Inc. explains that the responsibility of the company-designated physician to arrive at a definite assessment within the prescribed periods necessitates that the perceived disability rating has been properly established and inscribed in a valid and timely medical report.
To be conclusive and to give proper disability benefits to the seafarer, this assessment must be complete and definite; otherwise, the medical report shall be set aside and the disability grading contained therein shall be ignored. As case law holds, a final and definite disability assessment is necessary in order to truly reflect the true extent of the sickness or injuries of the seafarer and his or her capacity to resume work as such.
Further, failure of the company-designated physician to arrive at a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or permanent disability within the prescribed periods and if the seafarer’s medical condition remains unresolved, the law steps in to consider the latter’s disability as total and permanent.
The SC finally disposed that without a valid final and definitive assessment from the company-designated doctors within the 120/240-day period, as in this case, the law already steps in to consider a seafarer’s disability as total and permanent.
By operation of law, therefore, Lemoncito is already totally and permanently disabled. Besides, jurisprudence grants permanent total disability compensation to seafarers, who suffered from either cardiovascular diseases or hypertension, and were under the treatment of or even issued fit-to-work certifications by company-designated doctors beyond 120 or 240 days from their repatriation.