The diagnosis of the seafarer’s personal physician, even if established only after a single consultation, may serve as the basis for granting invalidity benefits.
The Supreme Court argued in the case of Luisito Reyes v. Jebsens Maritime(GR 230502 February 15, 2022) the weight of contradictory medical certificates between the doctor appointed by the company and the seafarer’s personal doctor, who will be assessed on their merits and not only on the frequency of consultations.
Halfway through his contract, the sailor was medically repatriated to the Philippines due to back pain, which he allegedly suffered following an accident on board the ship.
He was diagnosed as having suffered an ‘L1 compression fracture secondary to osteoporosis’.
After physiotherapy sessions 108 days before repatriation, the occupational doctor issues a medical certificate declaring him fit for work
The sailor then consulted two personal physicians who, after a thorough history and physical examination, prepared medical reports concluding that the sailor had lost his pre-injury ability and was unfit to return to his previous work due to of said deficiency.
Due to recurrent lower back pain, the sailor was declared permanently disabled and permanently unfit for any other duty at sea.
The sailor filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) for disability benefits, which was dismissed because, among other things, the diagnoses and conclusions of his personal doctors were issued much later and after unique consultations with the sailor without adequate tests to support the same.
The medical conclusions of the doctor appointed by the company are taken into account because this doctor is, under the law, obliged to reach a final assessment of the fitness or the degree of invalidity of the seafarer within 120 days. from repatriation, subject to an extension of up to 240 days. days when additional medical care is needed.
It is the responsibility of the physician appointed by the company to issue a final medical assessment of the seafarer’s degree of disability or fitness for duty.
As a corollary, the sailor can also consult a doctor of his choice.
The Supreme Court, in this case, gave more weight to the certificates of the seafarer’s personal physicians than to the physician appointed by the company.
Even though the sailor’s second doctors’ diagnoses were made only after one-time consultations, the Supreme Court still found them to be duly substantiated; as they were based on the same results of the seafarer’s extensive tests, procedures and physiotherapy sessions, on which the company-appointed physician relied.
While the final diagnosis from the company-designated physician deemed the sailor fit for duty, it also noted that the sailor was still reporting bouts of numbness in the affected area.
Although these episodes were rare, tolerable and ultimately self-limiting, this observation is not insignificant in determining the seafarer’s fitness for sea duty, especially since he sought a second medical opinion less than two weeks later. after his last treatment with the doctor designated by the company.
Since the certification of the company’s appointed doctor would defeat the seafarer’s claim while the opinion of the independent doctors would confirm this claim, the Court emphasized that the law looks fondly at the worker.
Thus, when the evidence can reasonably be interpreted in two divergent ways, one prejudicial and the other favorable, the balance must tip in its favor in accordance with the principle of social justice.
The Supreme Court noted in Magsaysay v. Buenaventura (GR 195878. January 10, 2018) that the courts should not adopt the hook, line and sinker statement because it can be overturned if it is shown that the occupational physician’s diagnosis is accompanied by manifest bias, n has no scientific basis or is not supported by the seafarer’s medical records.
In Magsaysay v. Benson (GR 198528, October 13, 2014), the Court ignored the company doctor’s categorical statement that the seafarer’s illness is not work-related to be of interest. The Court accepted the work link of the disease because the facts of the case clearly showed the contributory factor of the seafarer’s daily working conditions to the disease suffered, even in the absence of a contrary opinion from other doctors.
Atti. Dennis R. Gorecho leads the seafarers division of the law firm Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.