CEBU

Almirante: Seafarer’s disability benefits

Labor Case Digest

ON JAN. 16, 2012, petitioner George M. Toquero was employed by respondent Crossworld Marine Services Inc. (Crossworld) on behalf of its principal, Kapal Cyprus Ltd., as a fitter for vessel mv AS Victoria.

On April 24, 2012, while working on board the vessel, he had an altercation with his fellow seafarer, Jamesy Fong, who challenged him to a fistfight which he ignored and continued working. Suddenly, Fong hit the back of his head with a big and heavy metal spanner, knocking him unconscious.

Petitioner was later hospitalized in Lome, Togo, Africa, where he was evaluated by a neurosurgeon. The Medical Certificate “noted a large lacerated wound with a large depression on the left parietal area.” After his repatriation to the Philippines on May 14, 2012, he underwent a series of treatment by respondent’s company-designated physicians and his chosen physician.

On June 25, 2012, petitioner filed a complaint against respondent for sickness allowance, money claims, moral and exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees which he later amended to include a claim for total permanent disability benefits, when he learned that respondent’s company-designated physician declared him fit for sea duty.

On April 16, 2014, the petition for certiorari filed by Toquero with the Court of Appeals (CA) was dismissed. It found that while the injury suffered by him was work-related, it cannot be classified as an accident because it resulted from his co-worker’s criminal assault. It ruled that Toquero should have expected the attack because of his previous quarrel with Fong.

Does the CA err? Ruling: Yes.

Here, the two (2) elements of a work-related injury are present. Not only was petitioner’s injury work-related, it was sustained during the term of his employment contract. His injury, therefore, is compensable.

As with the lower courts, this Court finds that petitioner’s injury was work-related. Moreover, the labor tribunals also found that respondents breached their contractual obligation by hiring another employee who was prone to committing felonious acts. Under Section l(A)(4) of the POEA Standard Employment Contract, respondents must “take all reasonable precautions to prevent accident and injury to the crew.” The National Labor Relations Commission reasoned that the master of vessel instructed petitioner and his assailant to work together when prudence dictates that they should have been prevented from working together.

•••

Once petitioner had established that the two (2) elements are present, he is deemed entitled to disability compensation under the POEA Standard Employment Contract. The labor tribunals and the Court of Appeals erroneously imposed a new prerequisite for the disability’s compensability that the injury must be caused by an accident.

Respondents’ argument that the claim is precluded because the injury is due to the willful acts of another seafarer is also untenable. The POEA Standard Employment Contract disqualifies claims caused by the willful or criminal act or intentional breach of duties done by the claimant, not by the assailant. It is highly unjust to preclude a seafarer’s disability claim because of the assailant’s willful or criminal act or intentional breach of duty.

Between the ship owner/manager and the worker, the former is in a better position to ensure the discipline of its workers. Consequently, the law imposes liabilities on employers so that they are burdened with the costs of harm should they fail to take precautions. In economics, this is called internalization, which attributes the consequences and costs of an activity to the party who causes them.

The law intervenes to achieve allocative efficiency between the employer and the seafarer. Allocative efficiency refers to the satisfaction of consumers in a market, which produces the goods that consumers are willing to pay. In cases involving seafarers, the law is enacted to attain allocative efficiency where the occupational hazards are reflected and accounted for in the seafarer’s contract and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration regulations.

Petitioner was able to prove that his injury was work-related and that it occurred during the term of his employment. With these two (2) elements established, this Court finds his injury compensable. (George M. Toquero vs. Crossworld Marine Services Inc., et al., G.R. No. 213482, June 26, 2019).


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