Can the disability grading given by the company doctor prevail over the fact that both the doctors of the company and the seafarer declared that the seafarer is unfit to return to his previous occupation?

In the case of Maunlad Trans., Inc., vs. Rodolfo Camoral (G.R. No. 211454, February 11, 2015), the Supreme Court observed that the disability grading provided by the company for the seafarer’s impediment cannot control. The seafarer, in the said case, was hired on board an ocean-going vessel as ice carver. While at work, he felt intense pain in his neck and was thereafter examined by the ship’s doctor who advised him that he was unfit for further duty. A company doctor based in the U.S. found the seafarer to be suffering from “cervical disc herniation and radiculopathy” or some acute injury to a nerve in the cervical spine, and declared him unfit for duty. Upon his repatriation to the Philippines, he was again referred to company doctors and underwent surgery as well as therapy. The pain he was feeling nevertheless persisted. Consulting thereafter his own doctor, the latter also found him unfit to work. This notwithstanding, he was later assessed by another company doctor with grade 10 disability, noting his supposed recovery, and was offered the amount of US$10,075 as partial permanent disability benefit. His maximum medical cure was stopped by his employers on the 150th day of his treatment. The seafarer then refused the offer and filed his labor claim before the NLRC, insisting that his disability is total and permanent.

The Labor Arbiter sided with the seafarer, considered his disability to be total and permanent, and set aside the disability grading provided by the company doctor. So did the NLRC and the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the seafarer and awarded him total and permanent disability benefit. The Court observed that the grade 10 disability provided by the company doctor had no evidentiary basis and cannot prevail over the undisputed fact that the seafarer was declared unfit by both his doctor and that of the company doctor. Such declaration is akin to a declaration of permanent and total disability.

In its decision, the High Court emphasized its previous rulings on disability and pointed out that an award of total and permanent disability benefit is applicable when the seafarer is unable to perform his customary work for more than 120 days which constitutes permanent and total disability. It is when his illness or injury prevents him from engaging in gainful employment for more than 120 or 240 days that he shall be deemed totally and permanently disabled. It is of no consequence that the seafarer has recovered after his illness or disability, since the law does not require that the illness should be incurable.

The Supreme Court likewise cited the case of Vergara v. Hammonia Maritime Services, Inc. (588 Phil. 895 (2008), where it so provided that a total and temporary disability becomes permanent when (a) so declared by the company doctor within 120 or 240 days or (b) upon the expiration of the 120/240 days without a declaration of fitness to work or permanent disability, AND the seafarer is still unable to resume his regular seafaring duties.

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