Seafarer’s Unjustified Refusal to Continue His Medical Treatment

On 30 September 2008, the respondents hired the seafarer in this case as fitter aboard the vessel Crown Garnet for a period of nine (9) months. He embarked on 4 October 2008.

The seafarer claimed that in January 2009, he started experiencing neck and lower back pain. He then stated that he signed off from the vessel on 13 July 2009 (although it was not clear in the case whether the same was by way of medical repatriation or of the expiration of his employment contract).

Upon arrival in the Philippines on 15 July 2009, he was referred to the company-designated physician and was diagnosed with “cervical radiculopathy, thoracic and lumbar spondylosis, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome of the left, and trigger finger, third digit of his right hand.” He underwent carpal tunnel surgery on his left hand, and physical therapy sessions for his cervical and lumbar condition.

On 23 November 2009, the seafarer filed a complaint for disability benefits against the respondents.

The Supreme Court denied the seafarer’s disability benefits in this case.

At the time the complaint for disability benefits was filed, the seafarer had no cause of action.

The Court found that when the seafarer filed said complaint, he was still under the care of the company-designated physician. He also had not even consulted a personal doctor before he instituted his complaint.

The company-designated physician even advised the seafarer to seek the opinion of an orthopedic specialist. The seafarer, however, did not heed the advice and proceeded to file his complaint for disability benefits. It was only a day after its filing that the seafarer requested from the company-designated physician the latter’s assessment on his medical condition.

Since the company-designated physician was yet to issue an assessment on the seafarer’s medical condition, and since the 240-day maximum period for determining the seafarer’s disability or fitness to work had not yet lapsed, the Court accordingly concluded that the seafarer prematurely filed his complaint.

The seafarer reneged on his duties under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Standard Employment Contract.

In his report, the company-designated physician stated that while there was a good chance the seafarer will be declared fit to work, this was premised on the completion of his remaining therapy sessions to address the pain in his left hand and back. The seafarer thereafter complained of pain on the neck and additional pain of the lower back which was not originally present at the start of his treatment. Thus, the company-designated physician intended to prolong the seafarer’s treatment. However, the seafarer no longer reported to the clinic of the said physician.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Standard Employment Contract1Under Section 20 (D) provides that

[n]o compensation and benefits shall be payable in respect of any injury, incapacity, disability or death of the seafarer resulting from his willful or criminal act or intentional breach of his duties, provided however, that the employer can prove that such injury, incapacity, disability or death is directly attributable to the seafarer.”

The Court found that the seafarer was aware that he had the duty to undergo medical treatment, physical therapy sessions, including the recommended consultation to an orthopedic specialist, in order to give the company-designated physician the opportunity to determine his fitness to work or to assess the degree of his disability. His inability to continue his treatment without any valid explanation proved that he neglected his corresponding duty to continue his medical treatment. Consequently, the seafarer’s inability to regularly return for his treatment caused the regress of his condition. According to the Court, had the seafarer been cooperative with his treatment and shown interest in improving his condition, it would have been possible for the company-designated physician to declare him fit to work.

The Court thus declared that the seafarer failed to comply with the terms of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Standard Employment Contract. The absence of a timely assessment was not caused by the company-designated physician, but had resulted from seafarer’s refusal to cooperate and undergo further treatment. Such failure to abide with the procedure under the said contract resulted in his non-entitlement to disability benefits.

Further reading:

  • Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. v. Quillao, G.R. No. 202885, January 20, 2016.