Insanity and Suicide

4:12 am Thursday, July 27, 2017

By: Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho

Homesickness and/or family problems may result to depression, but the same does not necessarily equate to mental disorder that will  enable the heirs to be entitled   to death benefits for a seafarer who allegedly committed suicide.

This was the ruling of the Supreme Court in  the recent case of Seapower Shipping vs. Heirs of Warren Sabanal (G .R. No. 198544,  June 19, 2017)   where it denied the claim for death benefits as the heirs failed to prove that  cause of death of  the deceased seafarer is not  suicide.

Under the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) standard employment contract, the employer is generally liable for death compensation benefits when a seafarer dies during the term of employment. This rule, however, is not absolute. Part II, Section C (6) of the contract exempts the employer from liability if it can successfully prove that the seafarer’s death was caused by an injury directly attributable to his deliberate or willful act.

The question presented is whether the exemption extends to the case when the seafarer had been acting strangely prior to jumping into the sea.

Evidence of insanity or mental sickness may be presented to negate the requirement of willfulness as a matter of counter-defense. But the burden of evidence is then shifted to the claimant to prove that the seafarer was of unsound mind.

The seafarer’s strange behavior alone is insufficient to prove his insanity. Without proof that his mental condition negated the voluntariness he showed in stepping overboard, the seafarer’s case is still considered suicide.

Since the willfulness may be inferred from the physical act itself of the seafarer (his jump into the open sea), the insanity or mental illness required to be proven must be one that deprived him of the full control of his senses; in other words, there must be sufficient proof to negate voluntariness.

The heirs did not present any evidence to support   their claim that the seafarer was already insane when he jumped overboard.  The heirs only relied on the strange behavior of the deceased seafarer as detailed by the ship captain in the ship log and master’s report. However, while such behavior may be indicative of a possible mental disorder, it is insufficient to prove that the deceased seafarer had lost full control of his faculties.

In order for insanity to prosper as a counter-defense, the claimant must substantially prove that the seafarer suffered from complete deprivation of intelligence in committing the act or complete absence of the power to discern the consequences of his action. Mere abnormality of the mental faculties does not foreclose willfulness. In fact, the ship log shows the deceased seafarer was still able to correct maps and type the declarations of the crew hours before he jumped overboard. The captain observed that the deceased seafarer did not appear to have any problems while performing these simple tasks, while the seafarer -on-guard reported that the deceased seafarer did not show any signs of unrest immediately before the incident. These circumstances, coupled with the legal presumption of sanity tend to believe the heir’s claim that the deceased seafarer no longer exercised any control over his own senses and mental faculties

 The Court  cited a related case, Crewlink, Inc. v. Teringtering (G.R. No. 166803, October 11, 2012), where it ruled that  the claimant presented no evidence, witness, or any medical report to support the claim of insanity other than  bare allegations that the seafarer was suffering from a mental disorder . The explained that:

“Homesickness and/or family problems may result to depression, but the same does not necessarily equate to mental disorder. The issue of insanity is a question of fact; for insanity is a condition of the mind not susceptible of the usual means of proof. As no man would know what goes on in the mind of another, the state or condition of a person’s mind can only be measured and judged by his behavior. Establishing the insanity of [a deceased seafarer] requires opinion testimony which may be given by a witness who is intimately acquainted with the person claimed to be insane, or who has rational basis to conclude that a person was insane based on the witness’ own perception of the person, or who is qualified as an expert, such as a psychiatrist. No such evidence was presented to support respondent’s claim”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »