Web Alert: Philippines Supreme Court restricts crewman’s claims
11 September 2012
The Philippines Supreme Court has ruled that a crewman had no cause of action for total and permanent disability as his complaint was filed before the expiry of the 120 day treatment period envisaged under the standard form POEA employment contract.
The court also held that the crewman's claim for sick wages was deemed abandoned upon the filing of his complaint (CF Sharp Crew Management, Inc., Norwegian Cruise Lines and Norwegian Sun, and/or Arturo Rocha vs. Joel Taok).
The crewman was a Filipino cook who was repatriated to receive treatment for a heart condition. However, instead of attending a follow-up medical examination by the company-designated doctor, he filed a complaint for total and permanent disability benefits.
The local Labor Arbiter dismissed the complaint but awarded sickness wages and attorney's fees, ruling that the crewman had no cause of action for total and permanent disability at the time he filed his complaint because the crewman was still undergoing treatment and had not been assessed for permanent disability.
The crewman appealed to the NLRC presenting medical certificates to support his claim but the appeal was dismissed on the basis the complaint was filed whilst the crewman was undergoing medical treatment and evaluation by the company-designated doctor which meant that there had not been a finding as to whether or not his condition was work-related and whether or not he was suffering from a disability.
The Court of Appeals reversed the NLRC's decision and awarded disability benefits and the employer appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court's decision
The Supreme Court explained that according to the Labor Code, a crewman is deemed totally and permanently disabled if his treatment exceeds 120 days without a determination as to sickness or degree of disability being made. However, the court explained that this provision must be read in conjunction with the Amended Rules on Employee Compensation; these provide that if an employer fails to make a declaration in relation to disability within the 120 day period because the crewman is receiving ongoing treatment, the relevant period may be extended to 240 days.
The Supreme Court went on to consider when a crewman's cause of action for total and permanent disability benefits arises and held that in the present case, the crewman was considered totally yet temporarily disabled at the time he filed his complaint because the 120 day period had not yet expired and the company-designated doctor had not made a determination as to fitness or disability. As such, the crewman was not entitled to claim total and permanent disability benefits and was only entitled to sickness wages, repatriation and medical treatment. Subsequently presenting medical certificates confirming total and permanent disability did not affect this finding.
Further, the Supreme Court held that the crewman had abandoned his claim to sickness wages from the time he filed a complaint for total and permanent disability, noting there would be an inconsistency between the crewman claiming total and permanent disability and receiving sickness wages which are only payable during the period of temporary disability.
Members are recommended to closely monitor the health of any crewmember repatriated due to illness or injury on an on-going basis. This should be done in conjunction with consideration of the relevant contract of employment and local labour laws.