Credibility of findings of company doctors
The findings of the company-designated physician do not always bind the courts in determining the merits of compensation cases filed by Filipino seafarers.
In most seafarer cases for disability or death benefits claims, one of the arguments often raised by the companies is that they are not liable to pay benefits by pointing to the medical reports of the company-designated physician that the seafarer’s illness is not work-connected, that he is fit to work or that the compensation is limited to a lower amount based on a low disability grading.
They usually point out that the POEA mandated that the seafarer’s disability can only be assessed by the company-designated physician considering that the latter had the time and the opportunity to constantly monitor the health and physical condition of the seafarer.
In the recent case of Magsaysay vs. Oliver Buenaventura (G.R. No. 195878. January 10, 2018), the seafarer met an accident wherein a mooring winch crushed his right hand.
As a result, he suffered a fracture of the right first metacarpal bone and open fracture of the right second metacarpal bone, which required emergency surgical procedures both done in Japan and he was later medically repatriated.
After six months, the company doctor declared him fit to work after undergoing conservative management, continuous rehabilitation physiotheraphy, and occupational therapy.
He filed a case for disability benefits.
The Supreme Court denied the claims for disability benefits of the seafarer as it stressed that failure to refer the conflicting findings between the company-designated physician and the seafarer’s physician of choice grants the former’s medical opinion more weight and probative value over the latter.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court noted that it does not mean that the judicial bodies should adopt it hook, line and sinker as it may be set aside if it is shown that the diagnosis of the company designated physician is attended with clear bias, has no scientific basis or are not supported by the medical records of the seafarer.
The Court also pointed out in a case that their findings cannot be taken as “gospel truth” due to the proliferation of obviously biased company doctors whose loyalty rests completely upon the company they serve and these are palpably self-serving and biased in favor of petitioners and certainly could not be considered independent” (Wallem vs. NLRC 318 SCRA 623).
The Court will consider the glaring apparent inconsistency in the company doctor’s medical report between the classification of claimant’s disability and the fact stated that he had been unable to work for long period of time, which condition makes his disability permanent and total (Crystal Shipping, Inc. vs. Natividad, 473 SCRA 55).
Courts are called upon to be vigilant in their time-honored duty to protect labor, especially in cases of disability or ailment.
When applied to Filipino seafarers, the perilous nature of their work is considered in determining the proper benefits to be awarded.
These benefits, at the very least, should approximate the risks they brave on board the vessel every single day. Accordingly, if serious doubt exists on the company-designated physician’s declaration of the nature of a seafarer’s injury and its corresponding impediment grade, resort to prognosis of other competent medical professionals should be made.
In doing so, a seafarer should be given the opportunity to assert his claim after proving the nature of his injury. These evidences will in turn be used to determine the benefits rightfully accruing to him (Seagull Maritime Corp. vs. Jaycee Dee, 520 SCRA 109).
The Court stressed that the company physician’s assessment does not evince irrefutable and conclusive weight in assessing the compensability of an illness as the seafarer has the right to seek a second opinion from his preferred physician (Cadornigara vs. NLRC, 538 SCRA 363).
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