MORE MARITIME AGENCIES, INC vs. SERGIO F. HOMICILLADA, G.R. No. 124927.  May 18, 1999

 “Compensability of an ailment does not depend on whether the injury or disease was pre-existing at the time of the employment but rather if the disease or injury is work-related or aggravated his condition.”

 

FACTS:

Sergio Homicillada, entered into an overseas employment contract with More Maritime Inc., (MORE MARITIME), where he will be employed as oiler on board the vessel MV Rhine.

While the MV Rhine was anchored at a port in Brazil, Homicillada was directed to open and clean the main engine. To accomplish this, Homicillada had to enter a manhole, an entrance that was accessible only in a crouching position and had to carry a weighty 20-liter canister in order to collect the carbon, mud, and oil deposited inside the cylinders and bring them out for proper disposal.

After working for four consecutive days, Homicillada started experiencing pain in his waist and lower back.  Due to the excruciating pain, he decided to inform his Chief Engineer who insisted however that he continue with his work.  He was given only a “salonpas” plaster to relieve his pain.

Homicillada’s condition worsened.  He finally told his ship Captain who forthwith had him examined by their ship doctor.  In his medical report, the doctor certified that Homicillada was not fit for work for five (5) days.  But that notwithstanding, the ship Captain still required him to work.  He was never given any rest from work.  After the vessel sailed out of Brazil, the pain intensified and became unbearable.

Upon his return to France, Homicillada had himself medically examined again.  He was then repatriated to the Philippines where he underwent a series of physical examinations. ACT-scan image of the lower back of Homicillada revealed a “Degeneration Osteo Arthropathy, lumbar spine, with Disc Bulge,” or simply a slipped-disc. However, upon learning that the surgery would cost approximately P40,000.00 petitioner MORE MARITIME disregarded the recommendation and proposed instead a pelvic traction treatment which was a less costly procedure.  But this did not improve the condition of private respondent.

Homicillada then filed a complaint with the Philippine Overseas Employment Authority (POEA) against MORE MARITIME for disability and medical benefits as well as for payment of his two (2) months basic salary which petitioners had withheld. In their answer petitioners countered that Homicillada was not entitled to the benefits he was demanding because “his illness was pre-existing and unrelated to his employment.

Issue: Is MORE MARITIME correct?

Ruling: No.

Even assuming that the ailment of Homicillada was contracted prior to his employment, this fact would not exculpate MORE MARITIME from liability.  Compensability of an ailment does not depend on whether the injury or disease was pre-existing at the time of the employment but rather if the disease or injury is work-related or aggravated his condition.  It is indeed safe to presume that, at the very least, the arduous nature of Homicillada’s employment had contributed to the aggravation of his injury, if indeed it was pre-existing at the time of his employment.  Therefore, it is but just that he be duly compensated for it.  It is not necessary, in order for an employee to recover compensation, that he must have been in perfect condition or health at the time he received the injury, or that he be free from disease.  Every workman brings with him to his employment certain infirmities, and while the employer is not the insurer of the health of his employees, he takes them as he finds them, and assumes the risk of having a weakened condition aggravated by some injury which might not hurt or bother a perfectly normal, healthy person.  If the injury is the proximate cause of his death or disability for which compensation is sought, the previous physical condition of the employee is unimportant and recovery may be had for injury independent of any pre-existing weakness or disease.

Further, the respondent cannot avoid liability by saying that complainant’s sickness was concealed from it.  The moment it has chosen an applicant it is deemed to have subjected its applicant to the required pre-qualification standard.  Thus, the respondent cannot now claim that complainant’s sickness was pre-existing and concealed from it.

In sum, the injury sustained by Homicillada is compensable the same having resulted from the rigors of carrying heavy canisters in a crouching position which logically strained his lower back that lead to his slipped-disc.

Source: Supreme Court Case G.R. No. 124927 click to see full text