CASE BrieF NO. 2019-0025

CASE: Abosta Shipmanagement Corp., CIDO Shipping Company Ltd., and Alex S. Estabillo vs. Dante C. Segui [G.R. No. 214906, January 16, 2019]

PONENTE: Associate Justice Jose Reyes, Jr.

SUBJECT:

  1. Labor Law:
    i. Permanent and total disability – Rules in the award of awarding permanent and total disability benefits.
  2. Torts and damages:
    i. Attorney’s Fees

If the company-designated physician fails to give his assessment within the period of 120 days, without any justifiable reason, then the seafarer’s disability becomes permanent and total.


FACTS:        Dante C. Segui was hired by Abosta Shipmanagement Corporation/Cido Shipping Company Ltd./Alex Estabillo (Abosta Shipmanagement) as an able seaman on board the vessel M/V Grand Quest.

During his employment, he would be on duty more than 12 hours a day resulting in extreme fatigue and exhaustion. Sometime in October 2010, while on duty, he felt cramps followed by a severe back pain; that he informed the master who advised him to rest. The next day, he was unable to stand and remained in his cabin for the rest of the voyage. When the vessel arrived in South Africa, he was admitted to a medical facility and he underwent an x-ray of his back and injection on his left knee. The same procedure was taken in Colombia and again in Panama where he was diagnosed with a lumbar disc problem and was recommended repatriation.

On December 2, 2010, he arrived in Manila and was referred to the company-designated physician at the Manila Doctors Hospital where a CT Scan showed he was suffering from “Lumbar Spondylosis”.

On December 14, 2010, he underwent Laminotomy and Discectomy and was confined for 3 weeks. He continued with his therapy but his condition did not improve. On July 8, 2011, when Segui reached the maximum medical cure, the company-designated physician issued a disability rating of “Grade 8 disability – moderate rigidity or 2/3 loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk.”

Segui’s pain and discomfort persisted, thus, he sought another treatment and opinion from an independent doctor in the person of Dr. Nicanor Escutin. After a thorough examinations and test, concluded that the nature and extent of Segui’s injury rendered him permanently and totally unable to work as a seafarer, thus, Segui asked Abosta Shipmanagement to pay his total and permanent disability, however, the latter refused.

On February 2, 2012, the Labor Arbiter rendered a Decision in favor of Segui. The LA held that Segui is entitled to maximum disability benefit after finding that he suffered from a work-related illness/injury while on board the vessel.

On appeal to the National Labor Relations Commission, the Commission affirmed the Decision of the LA.

Undaunted, Abosta Shipmanagement elevated the case to the Court of Appeals (CA) through a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, as amended. The CA rendered a Decision dismissing the petition and affirming the NLRC’s Decision.

Hence, it filed a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

Among the issues Abosta Shipmanagement raised was “whether the CA committed serious and reversible error in affirming disability compensation on the basis of an unproven and unsubstantiated Collective Bargaining Agreement

ISSUES:

A.        Whether the question on whether the CA committed serious and reversible error in affirming disability compensation on the basis of an unproven and unsubstantiated Collective Bargaining Agreement” raised by Abosta Shipmanagement  is a proper subject of a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, as amended.
B.        What is the present rule in awarding permanent and total disability benefits to seafarers?       
C.        Whether Segui is entitled to a maximum benefit of permanent and total disability benefits.
D.        Whether Segui is entitled to Attorney’s Fees despite the absence of bad faith on the part of Abosta Shipmanagement.

RULING:

A.       No. The Court has consistently held that only questions of law may be raised in a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, as amended. The Court is not a trier of facts and its jurisdiction is limited to errors of law. Here, the first ground, “whether the CA committed serious and reversible error in affirming disability compensation on the basis of an unproven and unsubstantiated Collective Bargaining Agreement” raised by petitioners is factual in nature and is not a proper subject of a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, as amended.

B.       In the case of Elburg Shipmanagement Phils., Inc. v. Quiogue (2015), the Court expounded and summarized the rule in awarding permanent and total disability benefits, as follows:

An analysis of the cited jurisprudence reveals that the first set of cases did not award permanent and total disability benefits to seafarers whose medical treatment lasted for more than 120 days, but not exceeding 240 days, because (1) the company-designated physician opined that the seafarer required further medical treatment or (2) the seafarer was uncooperative with the treatment. Hence, in those cases, despite exceeding 120 days, the seafarer was still not entitled to permanent and total disability benefits. In such instance, Rule X, Section 2 of the IRR gave the company-designated physician additional time, up to 240 days, to continue treatment and make an assessment on the disability of the seafarer.

The second set of cases, on the other hand, awarded permanent and total disability benefits to seafarers whose medical treatment lasted for more than 120 days, but not exceeding 240 days, because the company-designated physician did not give a justification for extending the period of diagnosis and treatment. Necessarily, there was no need anymore to extend the period because the disability suffered by the seafarer was permanent. In other words, there was no indication that further medical treatment, up to 240 days, would address his total disability.

If the treatment of 120 days is extended to 240 days, but still no medical assessment is given, the finding of permanent and total disability becomes conclusive.
x x x x
In summary, if there is a claim for total and permanent disability benefits by a seafarer, the following rules shall govern:
1. The company-designated physician must issue a final medical assessment on the seafarer’s disability grading within a period of 120 days from the time the seafarer reported to him;
2. If the company-designated physician fails to give his assessment within the period of 120 days, without any justifiable reason, then the seafarer’s disability becomes permanent and total;
3. If the company-designated physician fails to give his assessment within the period of 120 days with a sufficient justification (e.g. seafarer required further medical treatment or seafarer was uncooperative), then the period of diagnosis and treatment shall be extended to 240 days. The employer has the burden to prove that the company-designated physician has sufficient justification to extend the period; and
4. If the company-designated physician still fails to give his assessment within the extended period of 240 days, then the seafarer’s disability becomes permanent and total, regardless of any justification.

The Court is not unmindful of the declaration in INC Shipmanagement that “the extent of his disability (whether total or partial) is determined, not by the number of days that he could not work, but by the disability grading the doctor recognizes based on his resulting incapacity to work and earn his wages.” Indeed, the disability benefits granted to the seafarer are not entirely dependent on the number of treatment lapsed days. The treatment period can be extended to 240 days if the company-designated physician provided some sufficient justification. Equally eminent, however, is the Court’s pronouncement in the more recent case of Carcedo that “the determination of the fitness of a seafarer for sea duty is the province of the company-designated physician, subject to the periods prescribed by law.”

Thus, to strike a balance between the two conflicting interests of the seafarer and its employer, the rules methodically took in consideration the applicability of both the 120-day period under the Labor Code and the 240-day period under the IRR. The medical assessment of the company-designated physician is not the alpha and the omega of the seafarer’s claim for permanent and total disability. To become effective, such assessment must be issued within the bounds of the authorized 120-day period or the properly extended 240-day period.

C.       In the present case, the records reveal that from Segui’s repatriation and immediate referral to the company-designated physician on December 2, 2010 until the 120-day period on March 31, 2011, the latter did not issue a medical assessment on Segui’s disability grading. It was only on the 219th day or on July 8, 2011, when Segui reached the maximum medical cure, that the company-designated physician issued a disability rating of “Grade 8 disability – moderate rigidity or 2/3 loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk.” Notably, the company-designated physician did not determine Segui’s fitness to work. Clearly, there was non-compliance with Items 1 and 2 of the rules on claim for total and permanent disability benefits cited in the Elburg case. The company-designated physician failed to issue a medical assessment within the 120-day period from the time Segui reported to him, and there was no justifiable reason for such failure. Likewise, there was no sufficient justification to extend the 120-day period to 240 days. Thus, following the above rules, Segui’s disability becomes permanent and total, and entitles him to permanent and total disability benefits under his contract and the collective bargaining agreement.

D.      On the issue of attorney’s fees, the Supreme Court affirms the award by the LA, following the ruling in Gomez v. Crossworld Marine Services, Inc.(2017), which states that “under Article 2208, paragraph 8 of the Civil Code, attorney’s fees can be recovered in actions for indemnity under workmen’s compensation and employer’s liability laws.

The Fallo

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court of Appeals Decision dated July 31, 2014 and the Resolution dated October 14, 2014 in CA-G.R. SP No. 130277 are AFFIRMED withMODIFICATION in that legal interest at the rate of 6% per annum hereby imposed on the monetary award for permanent and total disability benefits due Dante C. Segui, be reckoned from the finality of this Decision until full satisfaction thereof.

Related Case BrieFs:

  1. Gomez v. Crossworld Marine Services, Inc.(2017)
  2. Elburg Shipmanagement Phils., Inc. v. Quiogue (2015)

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THINGS DECIDED:

A) if there is a claim for total and permanent disability benefits by a seafarer, the following rules shall govern:

1. The company-designated physician must issue a final medical assessment on the seafarer’s disability grading within a period of 120 days from the time the seafarer reported to him;

2. If the company-designated physician fails to give his assessment within the period of 120 days, without any justifiable reason, then the seafarer’s disability becomes permanent and total;

3. If the company-designated physician fails to give his assessment within the period of 120 days with a sufficient justification (e.g. seafarer required further medical treatment or seafarer was uncooperative), then the period of diagnosis and treatment shall be extended to 240 days. The employer has the burden to prove that the company-designated physician has sufficient justification to extend the period; and

4. If the company-designated physician still fails to give his assessment within the extended period of 240 days, then the seafarer’s disability becomes permanent and total, regardless of any justification.

B) Article 2208, paragraph 8 of the Civil Code, attorney’s fees can be recovered in actions for indemnity under workmen’s compensation and employer’s liability laws.

 ‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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