In this issue:
Supreme Court rules seafarer who abandons his treatment cannot claim benefits; company doctor is the one to assess disability as per POEA contract; concept of “income benefit” introduced by Court
The seafarer was medically repatriated due to a spine condition on 31 August 2005. Upon repatriation, the seafarer was referred to the company-designated doctor for treatment where he underwent surgery and physical therapy until 17 March 2006 and was supposed to return for further examination on 6 April 2006.
In the interim, the seafarer filed a complaint before the NLRC for payment of disability benefits, sick wages and attorney’s fees on 19 January 2006 despite the fact that he was still advised to undergo further treatment. The seafarer argued that he should be paid full disability benefits based on his CBA considering that he was not declared fit to work despite the lapse of 120 days.
During the NLRC proceedings, the seafarer submitted a medical report from his doctor declaring him permanently unfit as a seafarer.
The Labor Arbiter awarded US$70,000.00 disability benefits to the seafarer as the latter was considered permanently and totally disabled because he was unable to perform work or earn a living in the same kind of work for more than 120 days from his repatriation. It was noted that the seafarer was under treatment for 197 days (date of the last report of the company-designated doctor) and there was no declaration of degree of disability of fitness to work issued. The NLRC affirmed the decision of the Labor Arbiter. In turn, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the NLRC.
Upon further appeal the Supreme Court held that seafarer is not entitled to disability benefits for two reasons.
There was no assessment issued by the company-designated doctor as to the extent of the seafarer’s disability as required by the POEA Contract
The Supreme Court noted that under then Section 20 (B) (3) of the POEA Contract, the company-designated doctor is tasked with the duty of determining the fitness to work or degree of disability of the seafarer. In this case, the company-designated doctor could not be faulted in not issuing a final medical assessment as the seafarer was still undergoing treatment and was even advised to return on 6 April 2006 to which he did not comply. The company therefore could not be blamed in claiming that the seafarer abandoned his treatment.
The 240 days period within which to treat the seafarer has not yet lapsed.