Almirante: Seafarer’s medical abandonment

Dominador A. Almirante

ON FEB. 27, 2009, respondent Sea Power Shipping Enterprises Inc. employed petitioner Danilo A. Lerona on behalf of respondent Neda Maritime Agency Co. Ltd., to work as a fitter on board M/V Penelope. On Aug. 1, 2009, while on board the vessel, he felt severe chest pains and dizziness, which prompted him to request for a medical checkup. He was repatriated to the Philippines on Aug. 13, 2009.

Petitioner underwent a series of physical checkups by respondent’s company-designated physician. He was placed under observation for another week prior to the issuance of a medical clearance. He was required to come back for a follow-up checkup on Dec. 23, 2009. However, he did not show up. Consequently, the physician declared him to have absconded.

On Jan. 14, 2010, petitioner filed a complaint for recovery of disability benefits, reimbursement of medical expenses and attorney’s fees against respondents.

Does this complaint find merit?

Ruling: No.

Petitioner also cannot claim disability benefits because he committed medical abandonment.

In C.F. Sharp Crew Management Inc. v. Orbeta, G.R. 211111, Sept. 25, 2017, 840 SCRA 483, we held that a seafarer commits medical abandonment when he fails to complete his treatment before the lapse of the 240-day period, which prevents the company physician from declaring him fit to work or assessing his disability. Section 20(D) of the 2000 Philippine Overseas Employment Administration-Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC), provides that “no compensation and benefits shall be payable in respect of any injury, incapacity, disability or death of the seafarer resulting from his willful or criminal act or intentional breach of his duties.

A seafarer is duty-bound to complete his medical treatment until declared fit to work or assessed with a permanent disability rating by the company-designated physician.

In this case, after undergoing several tests, petitioner was placed under observation. Dr. Gonzales advised him to return for his medical clearance on Oct. 23, 2009, or 71 days from his repatriation, but petitioner did not do so. He argues that he could still feel the symptoms of his ailment despite having been cleared by respondents’ cardiologist from coronary arterial disease on Oct. 15, 2009. Hence, he was prompted to consult another doctor. However, while indeed a seafarer has the right to seek the opinion of other doctors under Section 20(B)(3) of the 2000 POEA-SEC, this is on the presumption that the company-designated physician had already issued a certification on his fitness or disability and he finds this disagreeable.

As case law holds, the company-designated physician is expected to arrive at a definite assessment of the seafarer’s fitness to work or to determine his disability within a period of 120 or 240 days from repatriation. The 120-day period applies if the duration of the seafarer’s treatment does not exceed 120 days. On the other hand, the 240-day period applies in case the seafarer requires further medical treatment after the lapse of the initial 120-day period.

In case the company-designated doctor failed to issue a declaration within the given periods, the seafarer is deemed totally and permanently disabled. When petitioner chose not to show up at the appointed date of consultation, effectively preventing Dr. Gonzales from making a fitness or disability assessment, he breached his duty under the 2000 POEA-SEC. Without any final assessment from the company-designated physician, petitioner’s claim for permanent total disability benefits must fail. (Danilo A. Lerona vs. Sea Power Shipping Enterprises Inc., et al. G.R. 210955, Aug. 14, 2019).