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Web alert: Philippines - Supreme Court reviews and confirms the position on work-related illness

09 September 2015

The Supreme Court in the Philippines recently gave judgment on a case which again underlined the continuing practice of compensating a seafarer in full for an illnesses which would appear on the face of it to be non-work related in origin.

In this case the seafarer successfully passed a pre-employment medical examination (PEME) and joined the ship. During employment, he experienced severe chest pains, shortness of breath and back pain. At a subsequent port of call he was examined and diagnosed with acute Type-B Dissection.

He was repatriated and placed under the care of the company-designated physician. The company doctor made an assessment based on the findings contained within the PEME and concluded that the seafarer was suffering from a non-work-related illness, as the factors of acquiring the illness were congenital in nature.

The seafarer brought a claim for full disability benefits on the basis that his illness was work-related.The Labor Arbiter granted the claim but the NLRC reversed this decision and rejected the claim. Upon petition, the Court of Appeal reversed the NLRC’s decision and reinstated the award of the Labor Arbiter.

Giving judgment in favour of the seafarer the Supreme Court ruled that the seafarer’s employment and work as a messman contributed to the development of his illness.

The Supreme Court stated:

‘it is sufficient that there is a reasonable linkage between the disease suffered by the employee and his work to lead a rational mind to conclude that his work may have contributed to the establishment or, at the very least, aggravation of any pre-existing condition he might have had.'

The Supreme Court went on to say that the illness suffered by the seafarer was not listed as an occupational disease in the POEA standard employment contract. As a consequence the disputable presumption of the illness being work-related then applied. This presumption works in the seafarer's favour and unless the employer can present contrary evidence, the work-relatedness of the illness will be established.

The Court ruled that the findings of the company-designated doctor could not be upheld in this case on the basis that these were based solely upon a review of the seafarer’s PEME and not a post-employment medical examination following the seafarers repatriation. The medical report issued by the company-designated doctor failed to provide reasonable findings, diagnostic tests or procedures to support the assessment.

This decision should not come as a surprise. It simply confirms several decisions that have gone before. However, it is a good reminder that members should take all reasonable steps to ensure the following: (1) the medical opinions of company-designated doctors are based on a post-employment medical examination and not on mere review of the PEME; (2) they are based on reasonable findings, diagnostics tests and procedures to support the opinion reached; (3) assessments must come from the doctor who personally attended to the seafarer in the course of his treatment; (4) assessments must not be based on mere probability.

A copy of the judgment in Inc Dohle (IOM) Limited and/or Capt. Manolo Gacutan v. Heirs of Andres Gazzingan can be found here.