CEBU

Almirante: Attorney’s fees

Labor Case Digest

PETITIONER Edgar L. Torillos was hired as a chief cook by respondent Eastgate Maritime Corp. (Eastgate) for and on behalf of its foreign principal FJ Lines Inc. on board mv Corona Lions.

While performing his duties, he experienced pain in his right leg that radiated to his lower extremities.

After undergoing treatment in their two ports of entry, he was recommended for repatriation for further management and treatment. Subsequent to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of his lumbrosacral spine, he was advised to undergo physical therapy.

However, despite continued therapy sessions, he filed on May 8, 2012 a complaint against Eastgate for payment of permanent total disability benefits and attorney’s fees, among others.

In a decision dated Oct. 29, 2012, the labor arbiter found petitioner entitled to permanent total disability. On Jan. 3, 2013, the labor arbiter issued a decision correcting the names of the parties in the decretal portion.

From the decision dated Jan. 3, 2013, petitioner filed a memorandum of partial appeal questioning the labor arbiter’s failure to award him attorney’s fees.

Is petitioner entitled to attorney’s fees?

Ruling: No.

In labor cases, attorney’s fees are awarded when there is unlawful withholding of wages or benefits due, forcing the employee to litigate.

In the present case, there was no unlawful withholding of benefits to speak of. As discussed, Torillos filed a case against Eastgate while he was still undergoing treatment and without yet a final disability assessment from the company-designated physician. His act was premature, which stripped him of entitlement to attorney’s fees.

Besides, Torillos was already barred from claiming attorney’s fees for his failure to timely file an appeal from the Oct. 29, 2012 decision of the Labor Arbiter, which did not award attorney’s fees in his favor.

In his memorandum of partial appeal, Torillos alleged that he timely filed his appeal within the prescriptive period from his receipt of the Jan. 3, 2013 decision of the Labor Arbiter. However, the reglementary period should be counted from the receipt of the Oct. 29, 2012 decision, and not from the Jan. 3, 2013 decision.

The Jan. 3, 2013 decision was only an amendment to the Oct. 29, 2012 decision to correct a mere clerical error, i.e., to correct the names of the parties in the dispositive portion of the decision, and thus, was not a new judgment.

As such, the period for filing the appeal should still be counted from the receipt of the original judgment. (Edgar L. Torillos vs. Eastgate Maritime Corporation, et.al., G.R. No. 215904, January 10, 2019).


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