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Seafarer’s compensation cases and company doctor’s declarations

Courts are not bound by the medical findings of the company doctors in the determination of compensation cases filed by Filipino seafarers.

In most seafarer cases for disability or death benefits claims, one of the arguments often raised by the companies is that they are not liable to pay benefits by pointing to the medical reports of the company-designated physician that the seafarer’s illness is not work-connected, that he is fit to work or that the compensation is limited to a lower amount based on a low disability grading.

Such assessment is arrived at after the seafarer submits himself to the company doctor for a post employment medical examination within three days from his repatriation.

While the company doctor must declare the nature of a seafarer’s disability, the Supreme Court stressed in several rulings that said declaration is not conclusive and final upon the court since the  inherent merit of the case will still be weighed and duly considered.

The Supreme Court noted in Magsaysay v. Buenaventura (GR 195878. January 10, 2018) that the judicial bodies should not adopt the declaration hook, line and sinker as it may be set aside if it is shown that the diagnosis of the company doctor is attended with clear bias, has no scientific basis or is not supported by the medical records of the seafarer.

Their findings cannot be taken as “gospel truth” due to the proliferation of obviously biased company doctors whose loyalty rests completely upon the company they serve and these are palpably self-serving and biased in favor of petitioners and certainly could not be considered independent” (Wallem v. NLRC 318 SCRA 623).

In Dohle-Philman Manning Agency, Inc v. Heirs of Andres Gazzingan (GR 199568 June 17, 2015), the Court said that the company doctor’s opinion is not an accurate appraisal of the extent of the seafarer’s disability since it was not based on the post-employment medical examination conducted on the seafarer after his medical repatriation.

In the absence of reasonable findings, diagnostic tests and procedures to support the assessment, the same cannot be simply taken at face value. Moreover, the company doctor hastily concluded that aortic dissection is hereditary without necessarily considering other varied factors that can contribute to the development of the disease.

In Racelis v. United Philippine Lines, Inc. (GR 198408, November 12, 2014), the Court discarded the medical certificate because the opinion came from a physician who did not personally attend to the seafarer in the course of the latter’s medical treatment and for being unsubstantiated by any medical findings.

In Jebsens Maritime Inc. v. Babol (GR 204076, December 4, 2013), the Court did not give probative weight on the company doctor’s opinion that the seafarer’s condition is not work-related as the wordings used in the doctor’s report did not make a categorical statement confirming the total absence of work relation but only a mere probability.

In Magsaysay Mitsui Osk Marine Inc. v. Bengson (GR 198528, October 13, 2014), the Court disregarded the company doctor’s categorical declaration that the seafarer’s illness is not work-related for being self-serving. The Court sustained the illness’ work-connection as the facts of the case clearly showed the contributory factor of the seafarer’s daily working conditions to the illness suffered, even in the absence of a contrary opinion of other doctors.

In Teekay Shipping Philippines Inc. v. Jarin (GR 195598, June 25, 2014), the Court ruled that it was unnecessary for the seafarer to consult and provide a contrary opinion from his own doctors since the causal connection between the illness and the work for which he had been contracted was clearly detailed and convincingly established by him.

The company doctor’s assessment does not evince irrefutable and conclusive weight in assessing the compensability of an illness as the seafarer has the right to seek a second opinion from his preferred physician (Cadornigara v. NLRC, 538 SCRA 363).

Said rulings were based on the prevailing doctrine that  “disability is intimately related to the worker’s capacity to earn, and what is compensated is not his injury or illness but his inability to work resulting in the impairment of his earning capacity. Thus, disability has been construed less on its medical significance but more on the loss of earning capacity.” (Ilustricimo v. NYK-Fil Ship Management Inc., GR 237487, June 27, 2018.)

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786)

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