Almirante: Seafarer's disability benefits

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By Dominador Almirante

Labor case Digest

Saturday, December 28, 2013


ON OCT. 23, 1998, respondent Joselito T. Medel was hired by petitioner Fair Shipping Corp. for and in behalf of its foreign principal Kohyu Marine Co., LTD. as an able seaman of the vessel M/V Optima for 12 months. On Nov. 27, 1998, he began the performance of his duties. On March 1, 1999, the M/V Optima was docked at the Port of Vungtao in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. During emergency drills aboard the vessel, one of Medel’s co-workers lost control of the manual handle of a lifeboat, causing the same to turn uncontrollably and strike Medel in the forehead.

After a series of medical examinations, treatments and procedure, Medel claimed from petitioners the payment of permanent total disability benefits. Petitioners refused to grant his claim. Consequently, Medel filed a complaint against petitioners, for among others, disability benefits in the amount of US$60,000.

Did his claim prosper?

Ruling: Yes.

Medel was accidentally injured on board the M/V Optima on March 1, 1999, where he sustained an open depressed fracture on the left frontal side of his forehead, as well as damage to his left eye and frontal sinus. Since his repatriation to the Philippines on March 13, 1999, Medel underwent medical treatment for his condition under the supervision of Dr. Robert D. Lim, the company-designated physician, at the Metropolitan Hospital.

He was initially given medications to manage his condition and he went through surgical procedures to repair the damage to his left eye on April 22, 1999, July 14, 1999 and July 19, 1999.

Medel’s condition was continuously evaluated by the hospital’s ophthalmologist and neurologist. On Oct. 20, 1999, Medel went through the procedure of cranioplasty to repair his fractured skull. According to Dr. Lim, Medel was seen by the hospital neurologist and neurosurgeon on Feb. 11, 2000, on which date he was pronounced fit to resume sea duties.

Unmistakably, from the time Medel signed off from the vessel on March 13, 1999 up to the time his fitness to work was declared on Feb. 11, 2000, more than eleven months, or approximately 335 days, have lapsed.

During this period, Medel was totally unable to pursue his occupation as a seafarer.

Following the guidelines laid down in Vergara, it is evident that the maximum 240-day medical treatment period expired in this case without a declaration of Medel’s fitness to work or the existence of his permanent disability determined.

Accordingly, Medel’s temporary total disability should be deemed permanent and thus, he is entitled to permanent total disability benefits, the Supreme Court ruled. (Fair Shipping Corp., and/or Kohyu Marine Co., LTD. vs. Joselito T. Medel, G.R. No. 177907, Aug. 29, 2012).

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 29, 2013.

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