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Quitclaims in seafarer’s claims

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO July 30,2018 - 09:47 PM

Gorecho

Necessitous men are not, truly speaking, free men, especially in relation to quitclaims, waivers, or releases.

When a seafarer sustains injury, illness or lose his life, his employer does not hesitate to harness its immense resources to limit its liability for full compensation provided under the law and contract.

In many instances, he signs Receipt and Quitclaim documents thereby releasing his employers from all claims, demands and causes of action without even understanding their contents. Oftentimes, he is misled into accepting an ex-gratia, miniscule amount, in the guise that his condition is either not work-connected, or for any other reason for which he does not comprehend.

As a rule, quitclaims, waivers, or releases are looked upon with disfavor and are largely ineffective to bar claims for the measure of a worker’s legal rights.

To be valid, a Deed of Release, Waiver and/or Quitclaim must meet the following requirements: (1) that there was no fraud or deceit on the part of any of the parties; (2) that the consideration for the quitclaim is credible and reasonable; and (3) that the contract is not contrary to law, public order, public policy, morals or good customs, or prejudicial to a third person with a right recognized by law.

Courts have stepped in to annul questionable transactions, especially where there is clear proof that a waiver, for instance, was obtained from an unsuspecting or a gullible person; or where the agreement or settlement was unconscionable on its face.

A quitclaim is ineffective in barring recovery of the full measure of a worker’s rights, and the acceptance of benefits therefrom does not amount to estoppel.

Moreover, a quitclaim in which the consideration is scandalously low and inequitable cannot be an obstacle to the pursuit of a worker’s legitimate claim.

The minuscule amount is certainly questionable when it does not represent a true and fair amount which a reasonable seafarer may bargain with his employer.

In a case, the quitclaim was disregarded since the terms thereof are unconscionable and that company merely wangled them from the unsuspecting seafarer who, at that time, just arrived in the country after having been confined in a hospital abroad for a heart ailment. ( InterOrient vs. Remo, June 29, 2010 , G.R. No. 181112).

In many instances, while the documents appear to have been executed voluntarily, they were the result of a predesignated scheme to evade payment of disability benefits due to the seafarer, whose medical condition gradually regressed despite the company designated physician’s declaration that he was fit to work. Coupled with seafarer’s failing health, the facts negate his voluntariness in executing his complaints, motions to dismiss, and release documents and give life to the truism that “necessitous men are not, truly speaking, free men; but to answer a present emergency, will submit to any terms that the crafty may impose upon them.” ( InterOrient vs. Candava, G.R. No. 201251 , June 26, 2013)

This is especially true in cases where instead of promoting the orderly settlement of disputes, the company’s acts encouraged the circumvention of the proper legal procedures and the evasion of the payment of legitimate claims to a seafarer succumbing to a life-threatening disease .

Employers capitalize on the vulnerable position of seafarers in entering into the agreement and take advantage of the situation to the prejudice of seafarers.

Nevertheless, there are legitimate waivers that represent the voluntary and reasonable settlements of seafarer’s claims that should be respected as the law between the parties.

Where the party has voluntarily made the waiver, with a full understanding of its terms as well as its consequences, and the consideration for the quitclaim is credible and reasonable, the transaction must be recognized as a valid and binding undertaking, and may not later be disowned simply because of a change of mind.

A waiver is essentially contractual..

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