How should a companydesignated doctor prepare the medical opinion of a medically repatriated seafarer? The recent case of Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, et.al. v. Rodel A. Cruz (GR No. 204769, June 6, 2016) is instructive on this point and worth looking at.
In Magsaysay, the seafarer, who was hired by his employer to work on board an ocean-going vessel as housekeeping cleaner, experienced low back pain while lifting heavy objects in the course of performing his duties. On June 19, 2008, or almost six months after working on board the vessel starting on January 27, 2008, he was medically repatriated. When referred to the company-designated doctor, the latter diagnosed him and issued to him a medical report dated September 5, 2008 providing for an interim rating of grade 8. Said doctor likewise declared the possible need for him to undergo medical intervention since there was little improvement in his condition. Upon recommendation of a pain management specialist, the seafarer underwent surgery referred to as “provocative discogram and percutaneous nucleoplasty”. Some six months from his date of repatriation, the company doctor then declared his illness as work-related hence, the seafarer was able to receive his 120- day sickness allowance.
Almost one year from the seafarer’s repatriation or on June 1, 2009, the company doctor gave him a disability rating of grade 8 for “moderate rigidity or 2/3 loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk.” Not satisfied with the rating, the seafarer filed his complaint for permanent and total disability benefits before the National Labor Relations Commission.
As the case progressed, the Court of Appeals sided in favor of the seafarer and affirmed the labor arbiter’s decision entitling him to receive US$39,180 based on the grade 3 disability rating. The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the seafarer and even increased the amount to US$60,000 as maximum permanent and total disability benefits under the employment contract.
So why did the Supreme Court decide for the seafarer?
First, the Supreme Court noted that the September 5, 2008 medical report of the company doctor was belatedly submitted as evidence by the employer and no explanation was given why it was not presented at the earliest opportunity thus, casting doubt on its credibility.
Second, the September 5, 2008 medical report merely provided for an interim disability grade which constitutes as an initial determination of the seafarer’s condition for the time being. The seafarer will still be required to return for re-evaluation, and to continue therapy and medication after the interim determination. It is only an initial prognosis of the health status of the seafarer and does not fully assess his condition therefore, it cannot provide sufficient basis for the award of disability benefits.
Third, it can be deduced from the facts that the company doctor issued his disability rating on June 1, 2009 or almost a year from the seafarer’s repatriation. Since the seafarer required medical treatment even after 120 days from repatriation, the company doctor should have made his medical assessment on the seafarer’s condition within 240 days.
Needless, the company doctor failed to timely issue a declaration within the said 240-day period. With the lapse of the 240- day period, the opinions of the company doctor and the seafarer’s personal doctor are rendered irrelevant and the seafarer is deemed totally and permanently disabled which entitles him to the full US$60,000 disability benefits. Finally, since there was no definite assessment from the company doctor to speak of within the 240-day period, along with the established fact that the seafarer is unable to return to work and has been under continuous treatment even after more than one year from his repatriation, the seafarer’s entitlement to US$60,000 permanent and total disability compensation becomes clear and undeniable.
With the foregoing, it must be understood that a company doctor ought (a) to arrive at a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or (b) to determine his disability within a period of 120 days (if the duration of the seafarer’s treatment does not exceed 120 days) or 240 days (if the seafarer requires further medical treatment after the lapse of the initial 120-day period) from the seafarer’s repatriation. In case the company doctor failed to issue a declaration within the given two (2) periods, the seafarer is deemed totally and permanently disabled by operation of law.