Stroke and seafarer’s stress

Monday, January 14, 2019, 3:18 p.m.
By Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho

A seafarer who suffered stroke on board the vessel must be compensated due to work-related stress.

 In the case of  Magsaysay Mitsui OSK Marine, Incv. Bengson (G.R. No. 198528, October 13, 2014) disregarded the employer’s claim that the seafarer’s hypertensive cardio-vascular disease is not compensable on the sole basis of its company-designated physician’s declaration that such illness is not work-related.

The Supreme Court ruled that the seafarer’s illness, which has likewise been diagnosed as intracerebral hemorrhage or hemorrhagic stroke, is a serious condition, and could be deadly.

The Supreme Court noted that the seafarer has been working for the company since 1988 and has been serving as Third Mate for twelve (12) years.

Having worked for the principal since 1988 under employment contracts that were continuously renewed, it can be said that the seafarer spent much of his productive years with the principal; his years of service certainly took a toll on his body, and he could not have contracted his illness elsewhere except while working for the principal.

As Third Mate, he was saddled with heavy responsibilities relative to the navigation of the vessel, ship safety, and management of emergencies.

The seafarer was subjected to physical and mental stress and strain: as Third Mate, he is the ship’s fourth in command, and he is the ship’s safety officer; these responsibilities have been heavy burdens on his shoulders all these years, and certainly contributed to the development of his illness.

Besides, it is already recognized that any kind of work or labor produces stress and strain normally resulting in wear and tear of the human body.

An overseas worker, having to ward off homesickness by reason of being physically separated from his family for the entire duration of his contract, bears a great degree of emotional strain while making an effort to perform his work well.

The strain is even greater in the case of a seafarer who is constantly subjected to the perils of the sea while at work abroad and away from his family.

The Court has ruled that the list of illnesses/diseases in Section 32-A of the  POEA Standard Employment Contract (SEC) does not preclude other illnesses/diseases not so listed from being compensable. The POEA contract cannot be presumed to contain all the possible injuries that render a seafarer unfit for further sea duties.   And equally significant, it is not the injury which is compensated, but rather it is the incapacity to work resulting in the impairment of one’s earning capacity.

An employee’s disability becomes permanent and total when so declared by the company-designated physician, or, in case of absence of such a declaration either of fitness or permanent total disability, upon the lapse of the 120 or 240-day treatment period while the employee’s disability continues and he is unable to engage in gainful employment during such period, and the company-designated physician fails to arrive at a definite assessment of the employee’s fitness or disability.

In many cases decided in the past, the Supreme  Court has held that cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, and other heart-related ailments (including stroke)  are compensable.

Thus, in Fil-Pride Shipping Co., Inc. v. Balasta, (G.R. No. 193047, March 3, 2014) severe 3-vessel coronary artery disease which the seafarer contracted while serving as Able Seaman was considered an occupational disease.  In Villanueva, Sr. v. Baliwag Navigation, Inc., (702 SCRA 311).  it was held that the contract considers heart disease as an occupational disease.

 In Jebsens Maritime, Inc. v. Undag (662 SCRA 670) the Court held that hypertensive cardiovascular disease may be a compensable illness, upon proof.  In Oriental Shipmgt. Co., Inc. v. Bastol ( 622 SCRA 352) and Heirs of the late Aniban v. NLRC (347 Phil. 46)  it was held that myocardial infarction as a disease or cause of death is compensable, such being occupational.  Iloreta v. Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc (607 SCRA 796)  held that hypertensive cardiovascular disease/coronary artery disease and chronic stable angina are compensable.

Micronesia Resources v. Cantomayor (552 Phil. 130)  stated that a finding of coronary artery disease entitles the claimant – a seaman Third Officer – to disability compensation.  In Remigio v .NLRC (521 Phil. 330) the Court held that the claimant – a musician on board an ocean-going vessel – was entitled to recover for suffering from coronary artery disease.  In Sepulveda v. ECC, (174 Phil. 242) it was declared that the employee’s illness, myocardial infarction, was directly brought about by his employment as a schoolteacher or was a result of the nature of such employment.

(Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the  Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)

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