4:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2017
By: Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho
A seafarer is considered as suffering permanent total disability if the medical statement of the company doctor is devoid of any definitive declaration as to the seafarer’s capacity to return to work or at least a categorical and final degree of disability.
For the courts and labor tribunals, determining whether a seafarer’s fitness to work despite suffering an alleged partial injury generally requires resort to the assessment and certification issued within the 120/240-day period by the company-designated physician. Through such certification, a seafarer’s fitness to resume work or the degree of disability can be known, unless challenged by the seafarer through a second opinion secured by virtue of his right under the POEA-Standard Employment Contract. Such certification must be a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or permanent disability.
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. Otherwise, the corresponding disability benefits awarded might not be commensurate with the prolonged effects of the injuries suffered. (REYNALDO SUNIT, vs. OSM MARITIME SERVICES, INC. February 27, 2017G.R. No. 223035)
Jurisprudence is replete with cases bearing similar pronouncements.
In Fil-Star Maritime Corporation v. Rosete (G.R. No. 192686, November 23, 2011), the Court concluded that the company-designated doctor’s certification issued within the prescribed periods must be a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or disability:
As stated in Oriental Ship management Co., Inc. v. Bastol, (G.R. No. 186289 June 29, 2010) the company-designated doctor must declare the seafarer fit to work or assess the degree of his permanent disability. Without which, the characterization of a seafarer’s condition as permanent and total will ensue because the ability to return to one’s accustomed work before the applicable periods elapse cannot be shown.
In Kestrel Shipping Co., Inc. v. Munar, (G.R. No. 198501, January 30, 2013, 689 SCRA 795), the Supreme Court) underscored that the assessment of the company-designated physician of the seafarer’s fitness to work or permanent disability within the period of 120 or 240 days must be definite, viz: “Moreover, the company-designated physician is expected to arrive at a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or permanent disability within the period of 120 or 240 days. That should he fail to do so and the seafarer’s medical condition remains unresolved, the seafarer shall be deemed totally and permanently disabled. (emphasis supplied)”
There is no “definitive assessment” where the company-designated physician noted that seafarer’s wound was still open and that he was to continue his medications (Carcedo v. Maine Marine Philippines, Inc G.R. No. 203804, April 15, 2015) If he fails to do so and the seafarer’s medical condition remains unresolved, the latter shall be deemed totally and permanently disabled. (Fil-Pride Shipping Company, Inc. v. Balasta, G.R. No. 193047, March 3, 2014, 717 SCRA 624, 626)
Such principle is more apparent in event that the seafarer has remained unemployed as a seafarer for more than 240 days from the time of his repatriation or he was unable to perform the same physical activities he used to perform prior to his injury. (Belchem Phils. /UPL vs. Eduardo Zafra G.R. No. 204845, June 15, 2015)