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Redeployment and fraudulent misrepresentation of a pre-existing illness

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | July 28,2020 - 07:00 AM

 

The redeployment of a seafarer cannot negate his entitlement to disability benefits on account of fraudulent misrepresentation of a pre-existing illness.

The POEA employment contract states that “a seafarer who knowingly conceals and does not disclose past medical condition, disability and history in the pre-employment medical examination {PEME) constitutes fraudulent misrepresentation and shall disqualify him from any compensation and benefits.”

The Supreme Court disregarded in the case of  Leoncio  v. MST Marine Services (G.R. No. 230357, December 06, 2017) the company’s argument that the seafarer’s employment is contractual in nature so that he is required to divulge, during each PEME any pre-existing medical condition that he has,including past medical history, that can assist the company in arriving at an accurate decision as to whether or not he is fit for employment.

The seafarer was first medically repatriated in 2001 due to Hypertension and Angina Pectoris. He was later declared “Fit for Sea Duty” after undergoing treatment by the company-designated physician. He was re-employed by the company.

He was again repatriated on 2014 due to an entirely different illness, i.e., Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) to severe distal Right Coronary Artery (RCA) with one drug-eluting stent.

The company discontinued the medication process and later denied liability on the ground of his failure to declare during the PEME that he underwent a stenting procedure on his LAD and LCX arteries in 2009.

The Supreme Court disregarded the employer’s argument that the seafarer’s employment is contractual as it stressed that the knowledge acquired by the manning agency regarding the medical condition of a seafarer is not automatically wiped out and obliterated upon the expiration of a contract and the execution of another.

Seafarers are considered contractual employees. Their employment is governed by the contracts they sign every time they are rehired and their employment is terminated when the contract expires. Their employment is contractually fixed for a certain period of time.

Instead, the knowledge and information previously acquired by the manning agency is imputed to its principals. The employer cannot  deny knowledge of seafarers medical condition and so refuse to pay his benefits.

The company  was already aware of the existence of the seafarer’s coronary artery disease (CAD/HCVD) since 2001 but nonetheless reemployed and redeployed him to work for several more years.

The Supreme Court likewise ruled that the non-disclosures of medical procedures will not disqualify a seafarer from entitlement to disability benefits.

The word “illness” refers to a disease or injury afflicting a person’s body while “condition” refers to the state of one’s health.

The Court added that neither of these words refers to a medical procedure undergone by a seafarer in connection with an “illness or condition” (his CAD/HCVD) which was already known by his employers as far back as 2001.

The stenting procedure is the “placement of a small wire mesh tube called a stent to help prop the artery open and decrease its chance of narrowing again.”

The Supreme Court said that the procedure was intended to improve his health condition and was nothing more than an attempt to discontinue the steady progression of his illness or condition.

The seafarer’s failure to reveal the said procedure does not amount to a concealment of a pre-existing “illness or condition” that can bar his claim for disability benefit and compensation.

The Court also stressed the seafarer was a “walking time bomb ready to explode towards the end of his employment days” due to the compensable heart condition  caused by the unusual strain of the seafarer’s work.

In Manansala, v. Marlow Navigation Phils., Inc.  (G.R. No. 208314, August 23, 2017), the Supreme Court noted that the contract does not merely speak of incorrectness, falsity, of incompleteness or inexactness, or failure to disclose the truth. Rather, to negate compensability, it requires fraudulent misrepresentation, that he  deliberately concealed it for a malicious purpose.

To amount to fraudulent misrepresentation, falsity must be coupled with intent to deceive and to profit from that deception. Honest mistakes on a pre-existing illness during the PEME will not deprive seafarers of their right over disability or death benefits.

(Atty. Dennis 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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