Medical repatriation and contract termination in compensation cases
A seafarer is entitled to compensation even if he finished his contract as long as his medical condition was properly documented while he is on board the vessel.
The issue of repatriation due to contract termination and not on medical grounds was one of the argument raised by the company in their attempt to escape liability in the case of Teekay Shipping Philippines vs . Exequiel Jarin (G.R. No. 195598, June 25, 2014)
The seafarer was hired as Chief Cook for a period of eight months.
During employment, the seafarer complained of swelling in the joints of his two elbows. He was taken to a shore hospital where he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Steroid-based medications were administered to him which caused him the side effects of puffiness of the face and edema.
Despite his medical condition, the seafarer was able to complete his employment contract. He was repatriated and upon arrival in the Philippines, the seafarer was referred to the company physician, where he was diagnosed with “moon facies and bipedal edema secondary to steroid intake, rheumatoid arthritis, resolving and upper respiratory tract infection.”
The seafarer was referred to another company physician for further assessment who opined that his rheumatoid arthritis was not work-related because it is an auto-immune disease in which joints, usually those of hands and feet, are symmetrically affected, resulting in swelling, pain and often eventual destruction of the joints interior.” His cushingnoid features was also declared as not work-related since it was “secondary to prednisone intake as medical management for his rheumatoid arthritis.”
In the course of the treatment, the company doctor issued an evaluation stating that rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic illness “which can become progressive that has the potential to cause joint destruction and functional disability.” The seafarer was “no longer recommended for further sea duties.”
The company then informed the seafarer that his illness is not work-related and that further expenses for medical treatment shall now be for his own account.
The seafarer filed a complaint claiming permanent total disability benefits and sick wages.
Since one of the requirements for an illness or death to be compensable is that the seafarer suffered said illness during the effectivity of the POEA contract, it is imperative that his condition or symptoms must be documented while he is on board the vessel.
Otherwise, his claim for benefits might be denied due to failure to prove that said illness occurred while his contract is still in force.
The benefits are coterminous with the existence of the contract they sign every time they are rehired and is terminated when the contract expires.
The contract commences from the time when the seafarer actually departs from Philippine, either airport or seaport, for employment. It shall cease when he completes his period of contractual service aboard the ship, signs-off from the ship and arrives at the point of hire.
The Supreme Court ruled in the Jarin case that the employer cannot escape liability on the mere fact that the seafarer finished his contract and was not medically repatriated.
The Court noted that when the seafarer arrived in the Philippines, he was still suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, moon facies and bipedal edema and upper respiratory track infection, as confirmed by the petitioners’ physician. This is a case of medical repatriation coinciding with contract termination.
There are instances that the officers on board will convince a seafarer to await for the termination of his contract if symptoms of his medical condition is near the date of his repatriation based on contract. Unknowingly, this becomes a defense of the employers to the prejudice of the seafarer.
A seafarer in this situation must still document his medical condition, such as sending email messages to his principal, manning agency and his relatives that will serve as evidence that his illness occurred while he is still on board the vessel.
In Deauna vs. FilStarMaritime Corp. (G.R. No. 191563 June 20, 2012), the Supreme Court said that the work-related death need not precisely occur during the term of his employment as it is enough that the seafarer’s work-related injury or illness which eventually causes his death had occurred during the term of his employment.
(Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email[email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)
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