Work-related illness or injury for Filipino seafarers: a round-up of key cases - International Law Office

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Shipping & Transport - Philippines

Work-related illness or injury for Filipino seafarers: a round-up of key cases

May 18 2011


Filipino seafarers are governed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Standard Employment Contract. Six years ago, the contract was amended to include a requirement that for illness, injury or death to be compensated, it had to be 'work-related'. This provision was retained in the 2010 version of the contract. This update examines the evolving case law on work-related issues under the amended POEA contract.

During term of contract

In order to be compensable, the work-related illness, injury or death must occur during the term of the contract or, if occurring after the end of the contract, must have been caused by work on board the ship. The fixed-term contract begins at the place of hiring, usually Manila, and normally ends at the same place as the termination of hire.

To illustrate, the National Labour Relations Commission (NLRC) has ruled that a seafarer's death 17 days after the end of contract was not compensable. There was no proof that the seafarer's cerebrovascular disease (stroke), which occurred two days after repatriation, arose during the term of the contract.(1)

Similarly, the Supreme Court rejected a death compensation claim on the basis that the contract had been completed before the illness occurred. While the seafarer's end-stage renal disease had manifested itself one month after his repatriation, no compensation was awarded as the condition was contracted beyond the term of the contract and there was no proof that working conditions on board had increased the risk of contracting it.(2)

The Supreme Court reiterated said ruling involving two seafarers who likewise died of chronic renal failure four months and eight months (respectively) after repatriation. One had finished his contract, while the other had served on board for only 28 days.(3)

The same principle was applied by the Supreme Court in two cancer cases where death occurred more than one year after termination of employment, even though termination in both cases was due to medical reasons.(4)

In another case the Court of Appeals held that it was highly unlikely that a seafarer's kidney illness had arisen during his employment. The seaman had been on board for only one month and failed to prove that his illness was contracted during such short stint.(5)

Recent rulings

Illness
In a case involving urinary bladder cancer, the Supreme Court held that the claimants were unable to establish that work had exposed the seafarer to chemicals that are suspected to increase the risk of such cancer. Predisposition to develop cancer is affected not only by work, but also through various factors outside of one's working environment. The court went further by declaring that urinary bladder cancer differs from 'cancer of the epithelial lining of the bladder' (a listed occupational disease).(6)

However, in another case the Supreme Court granted benefits to a widower when her seafarer husband died due to colon cancer. The court held that as it was sufficiently shown that the seafarer's colon cancer was, at the very least, aggravated by his working conditions, taking into consideration his dietary provisions on board, his age and his job as chief engineer, who was primarily in charge of the technical and mechanical operations of the vessels to ensure voyage safety, his heir should be entitled to the benefits provided under the employment contract.(7) However, in a death claim involving Hodgkin's disease, the court denied compensation; aside from the fact that the seafarer had died outside of the term of his employment, the court was not convinced that the seafarer's alleged exposure to the vessel's motor fumes had caused or aggravated his illness.(8)

In another claim based on lymphoma, the Supreme Court denied a claim for disability benefits as there was no sufficient proof presented to show reasonable causal relation between the illness of the seafarer and his employment.(9)

Death due to HIV/AIDS was held not to be work related by the Supreme Court. Aside from finding wilful concealment in the pre-employment medical examination, the court resolved that HIV/AIDS are not compensable, since the diseases can be contracted only in specific ways (ie, sexually or through blood transmission). Considering that the seafarer had not undergone a blood transfusion during his employment, the only conclusion was that the illness had been transmitted through sexual activity, which cannot be considered to be work-related.(10)

Ruling on a claim for disability compensation due to depression, the Supreme Court denied a claim and held that the seafarer was unable to prove that his illness had been brought about by his working conditions. The seafarer claimed that he had been verbally abused by the vessel's officers but did not provide proof of this or show that his depression was a direct cause of the alleged abuse.(11) The court likewise based the denial of the claim due to failure of the seafarer to comply with the mandatory three-day reportoring requirement.

Stressing the theory of increased risk, the Supreme Court likewise denied the claim of a seafarer who was repatriated due to an eye injury and subsequently died of a stroke.(12) The seafarer failed to present proof that the eye injury increased the risk of the fatal stroke. In the same vein, death arising from myocardial infarction (ie, a heart attack) was denied compensation as the cause of death was unrelated to the reason for repatriation, which was kidney stones.(13)

In a similar ruling the NLRC declared that a seafarer's heart disease was congenital. Being a birth abnormality, it was impossible for the condition to have been aggravated during his normal course of employment as a cook.(14) However, a contrasting ruling was issued by the Supreme Court in a claim based on coronary artery disease involving a tugboat master. The court held that the arduous and gruelling nature of the seafarer's job had caused his disease or at least aggravated any pre-existing condition that he may have had.(15)

In another case the Court of Appeals found no causal relationship between a master's diverticulosis illness and his work on board the ship. As master, his duties related only to the supervision of the ship and crew. He had been exposed to no risk that would have increased the chances of acquiring a disease associated with the digestive tract.(16)

In a claim based on gallstones, the Supreme Court denied compensation, reasoning that gallstones take a long period to develop. In all probability, the seafarer had had gallstones prior to working on-board the vessel. Further, gallstones are not listed as an occupational disease and the seafarer failed to show a reasonable causal connection between his illness and his work on board.(17) This was also the ruling of the Court of Appeals in a case in which the seafarer claimed disability benefits due to his haemorrhoids which, aside from being resolved already, were not shown to be work-related.(18)

Injury
A seafarer who had serious injuries inflicted by a Russian mob during shore leave was held not to be entitled to compensation. Injury must arise out of and in the course of employment. In short, there must be a causal connection between the relevant work assignment and the resulting injury. Interestingly, the NLRC rejected as absurd the seafarer's contention that all legitimate activities of seafarers, even outside the vessel, are to be considered work related.(19) In a case for death benefits, the Court of Appeals denied compensation to the heirs of a seafarer who had drowned while on shore leave. The court held that the work-relation standard was not substantially satisfied.(20)

Meanwhile, death from stabbing was held not to be work related, as it was the deceased seafarer who was found to have provoked the incident. His death was attributable to his own unlawful aggression.(21)

In an abdominal injury case, the Supreme Court denied a subsequent claim for tuberculosis, as the illness was not the cause of the seafarer's repatriation and was unrelated to his initial abdominal injury.(22)

Pre-existing conditions and concealment

A seafarer is required to disclose in his or her pre-employment medical examination, or to his or her employer, any past medical condition, disability or history of illness. If the seafarer fails to do so despite full awareness of the condition at the relevant time, he or she is disqualified from claiming any benefits.

Thus, the Supreme Court denied a seafarer's disability claim when he fraudulently disguised to fact that he had previously suffered from hypertension and coronary heart disability prior to joining the vessel.(23)

In the case of a seafarer who succumbed to lung cancer after barely two weeks on board a vessel, the court found that since the seafarer had been a habitual smoker for 25 years, it was unlikely that he had developed lung cancer during the period of his employment.(24) Another case involved arthritis and a bone-related ailment in which the seafarer was noted to have been experiencing symptoms nine days prior to his to deployment. It was little wonder that he was able to serve for just three weeks.(25)

One of the reasons that the Supreme Court denied a claim for death benefits under the employment contract by an heir of a seafarer was due to the fact that the HIV/AIDS of the latter was determined to have been in existence prior to his previous employment, although this had not been not declared.(26)

When a seafarer filed a claim for disability benefits based on disc herniation, the Court of Appeals denied the claim, reasoning that the seafarer had committed misrepresentation in his pre-employment medical examination, as it was duly established that he was previously able to collect disability benefits based on the same condition.(27)

Occupational disease

Section 32A of the POEA contract lists 24 illnesses that are considered to be occupational diseases, provided that certain conditions are met. Illnesses not so listed may also be considered occupational where they are presumed to be work-related. However, the employer can dispute such presumptions by presenting evidence that the illness is not work related.

In one case the NLRC ruled that a cruise ship bar waitress's uterine myoma was presumed to be work related. The disability claim was held to be compensable as the employer's submissions and evidence did not overcome the presumption.(28)

On the other hand, a chief engineer's diabetes was not considered to be work-related. The NLRC upheld the company doctor's opinion that diabetes is a familial, hereditary or genetic condition and employment circumstances are irrelevant. The seafarer may have been afflicted with the disease from childhood or in adulthood. Diabetes normally develops as a result of many non work-connected factors such as family predisposition, genetic make-up, lifestyle and diet. Further, there was nothing in the seafarer's duties that would have contributed to the development of diabetes.(29)

However, in one case, although it recognised that thyroid cancer is not listed (and hence presumed to be work-related), the Court of Appeals still required the seafarer to show that employment aggravated the disease. The seafarer's bare assertion of 'unusual strain of work' was declared insufficient to deserve compensation.(30) Even the Supreme Court declared that a seafarer had to present substantial evidence to show a causal connection between the nature of his employment as assistant housekeeping manager and his illness of lymphoma, or that the demands of his job and working conditions had increased the risk of contracting the disease, notwithstanding the disputable presumption of work relation supposedly enjoyed by the seafarer.(31)

Comment


The Philippine courts have generally looked at the actual work performed by the seafarer, the working conditions, time element, the type of illness or nature of injury, and other circumstances in determining work relation and the compensability of disability or death claims. In recent decisions the courts have also examined whether the claimants were able to prove that the relevant working conditions had increased the risk of contracting the illness that resulted in disability or death.

For further information on this topic please contact Ruben T Del Rosario at Del Rosario & Del Rosario law Offices by telephone (+63 2 810 1791), fax (+63 2 817 1740) or email (ruben.delrosario@delrosariolaw.com).

Endnotes

(1) Annabelle Cabahug v Southfield Agencies, Inc, NLRC OFW CN 04-04-01095-00, CA 045283-05.

(2) Lourdes Rivera v Wallem Maritime Services, Inc, GR No 160315, November 11 2005.

(3) Zosimo Rosario v Denklav Marine Services, GR No 166906, March 16 2005; Gau Sheng Phils, Inc, v Estrella Joaquin, GR 144665, September 8 2004.

(4) Prudential Shipping and Management Corp v Emerlinda Sta Rita , GR 166580, February 8, 2007; Klaveness Maritime Agency Inc v Beneficiaries of the late Second Officer Anthony Allas, GR 168560, January 28 2008.

(5) Trans-Global Maritime Agency, Inc v NLRC, CA-GR SP 91393, February 10 2006.

(6) Klaveness Maritime Agency, Inc v Beneficiaries of the late Second Officer Anthony Allas, GR 168560, January 28 2008.

(7) Leonis Navigation Co, Inc v Villamater, GR 179169, March 3 2010.

(8) Southeastern Shiping v Navarra, GR 167678, June 22 2010.

(9) Magsaysay Maritime Corp v Cedol, GR 186180, March 22 2010.

(10) Escarcha v Leonis Navigation , GR182740, July 5 2010.

(11) Philippine Transamarine Carriers, Inc v Nazam, GR 190804, October 11 2010.

(12) Spouses Aya-Ay v Arpaphil Shipping Corp, GR 155359, January 31 2006.

(13) Leonoras v Equatorial Shipping and Shipmangement Co Inc, NLRC NCR OFW (M) 99-09-1623, December 29 2003.

(14) Guntan v Philippine Transmarine Carriers, NLRC CN (M) 02-04-0865-00, CA 036669-03, December 17 2003.

(15) Nisda v Sea Serve Maritime Agency, GR 179177, July 23 2009.

(16) Paul Go v NLRC, CA-GR SP 93068, May 29 2007.

(17) Bandila Shipping, Inc v Abalos, GR 177100, Ferbuary 22 2010.

(18) Loza v NLRC, CA GR SP 107414, May 29 2009.

(19) Vigil v Aqualink Maritime, NLRC NCR CN OFW (M) 03-10-2675-00; CA 041526-04, July 29 2005.

(20) Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc v NLRC and Susana Sy, CA GR SP 107379, March 5 2009.

(21) Susan Maria v NLRC, CA-GR SP 97038, October 9 2007.

(22) Montoya v Transmed Manila Corp, GR 183329, August 27 2009.

(23) OSM Shipping Phils, Inc v Antonia Dela Cruz, GR 159146, January 28 2005.

(24) The estate of Posedio Ortega v Court of Appeals, GR 175005, April 30 2008.

(25) NYK-FIL Ship Management, Inc v NLRC, GR 161104, September 27 2006.

(26) Escarchav Leonis Navigation, GR 182740, July 5 2010.

(27) Enriquez v NLRC, CA GR SP,104440, May 22 2009.

(28) Rachel Lucas v Magsaysay Maritime, NLRC NCR 03-04-0979-00, CA 041854-04, August 12 2004.

(29) Loreto Mendoza v Ventis Maritime, NLRC NCR Case, OF2-(M)-04-05-01224-00.

(30) Apolinario Corpuz v NLRC, CA-GR SP 84665, February 21 2005.

(31) Magsaysay Maritime Corporation v Rommel Cedol, GR 186180, March 22 2010.


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