The Seafarer Received His Medical Report When the Parties Filed Their Position Papers

On March 13, 2013, Leobert signed a 10-month contract as an Assistant Cook with Holland America Line Westours, Inc. (Holland America) through its agent, United Philippine Lines, Inc. (UPL). Leobert boarded the “MS Zuiderdam” on March 27, 2013.

Leobert claimed that while performing his duties as an Assistant Cook, he experienced severe pain in his left shoulder, prompting him to notify his superior. He was advised to go to the infirmary, where the ship doctor prescribed pain relievers and advised him to rest for a few days. Leobert then requested an offshore consultation, but Holland America chose medical repatriation. Leobert was medically repatriated and arrived in the Philippines on April 10, 2013.

Leobert reported to UPL for his post-disembarkation medical check-up on April 10, 2013, and was referred to Shiphealth, Inc., (Shiphealth) where he was advised to undergo physical therapy sessions. He was referred to the University Physicians Medical Center, Inc. after his condition did not improve, and he underwent medical tests. He then returned to Shiphealth and was instructed to obtain his medical records from UPL. He was told verbally that he was fit to work, but he was unable to obtain any documentation of his medical evaluation from UPL.

From September 10, 2013 to October 8, 2013, Leobert sought medical advice from Seamen’s Hospital, where it was recommended that he undergo arthroscopic surgery. He also spoke with Dr. Cesar H. Garcia, an orthopedist who specializes in bone and joint diseases, who determined that Leobert was unfit to work as a seaman due to his shoulder injury. Leobert claimed that he was forced to seek medical help from independent doctors because Shiphealth and UPL refused to provide him with his medical records, and that he sought medical help from other doctors on his own initiative.

On September 11, 2013, Leobert filed a complaint against Holland America and UPL, believing he was entitled to permanent total disability benefits.

According to Holland America and UPL, Leobert was diagnosed with “Grade 10 — ankylosis of the shoulder joint not permitting arm to be raised above a level with a shoulder and/or irreducible fracture or faulty union collar bone” on June 14, 2013. However, Holland America and UPL claimed that Leobert was only entitled to US$12,090.00.

Holland America and UPL also claimed that because Leobert failed to demonstrate that the company-designated physician’s assessment was tainted with bias, malice, or bad faith, and he failed to comply with the procedure under Section 20 (A) (3) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract for challenging the company-designated physician’s assessment, he was only entitled to the benefits resulting from the company-designated physician’s findings.

Was Leobert entitled to permanent total disability benefits?

The Supreme Court ruled in the affirmative.

The Court noted that Holland America and UPL did not deny that Leobert’s injuries were work-related, but instead argued that Leobert was only entitled to disability benefits under Grade 10. Because Leobert failed to initiate the process to have the conflicting assessments of the company-designated physician and his own doctor referred to a third doctor, Holland America and UPL argued that the company-designated physician’s assessment is valid and should be relied on instead of the seafarer’s own doctor.

While the Court recognized the conflict resolution procedure prescribed in Section 20 (A) (3) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract, it clarified that a seafarer’s failure to follow such procedure is only taken against him if it is first demonstrated that the seafarer was notified of the company-designated physician’s assessment. According to the Court, only after the seafarer has been duly and properly informed of the medical assessment can he decide whether or not he agrees with it. If he does not agree, he can begin the process of referring the assessment to his personal physician, after which the conflicting assessments are referred to a third doctor.

The Court stressed its ruling in Gere v. Anglo-Eastern Crew Management Phils., Inc.1G.R. Nos. 226656 & 226713, April 23, 2018. in that the company-designated physician is mandated to issue a medical certificate, which should be personally received by the seafarer, or, if not practicable, sent to him/her by any other means sanctioned by present rules. Proper notice is one of the cornerstones of due process, the Court said, and the seafarer must be accorded the same especially so in cases where his/her well-being is at stake. If the seafarer is not notified of the evaluation of the company-designated physician after the lapse of the 120 or 240 day period from the date the seafarer first reported to the said physician, the Court states that by operation of law, the seafarer is deemed entitled to permanent total disability benefits.

In the present case, the Court determined that Leobert was only shown the assessment of his impediment after Holland America and UPL had filed their position paper. Since the final and valid assessment of Leobert’s condition was not issued within the 120 or 240-day period, the Court ruled that Leobert was legally entitled to permanent total disability benefits.

Further reading:

  • United Philippine Lines, Inc. v. Ramos, G.R. No. 225171, March 18, 2021.
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