CASE DIGEST: Fil-Pride Sidpping vs. Balasta

G.R. No. 193047 March 3, 2014




Respondent Edgar Balasta was hired by Petitioner Company and was assigned as an Able Seaman on board its vessel. He was declared fit after undergoing mandatory Pre- employment examination. Sometime in August and September 2005 while aboard M/V Eagle Pioneer, respondent experienced chest pains, fatigue, and shortness of breath. He was examined by a physician in GangyouHospital in Tianjin, China, and was diagnosed as having myocardial ischemia and coronary heart disease. He was declared unfit for duty and was recommended for repatriation.

Respondent was thus repatriated on September 18, 2005 and was immediately referred to the company-designated physician, Dr.Nicomedes G. Cruz (Dr. Cruz). He was subjected to several laboratory tests and was subsequently diagnosed with hypertension and myocardial ischemia. He was examined on several occasions by Dr. Cruz and was further diagnosed with severe 3- vessel coronary artery disease and was scheduled for coronary artery bypass surgery on February24, 2006. On his own initiative, respondent further consulted with another doctor at St. Lukes hospital and was diagnosed with the same disease. Respondent likewise consulted with an independent physician, Dr. Vicaldo, and was diagnosed with coronary artery disease. He was declared to be unfit to work as seaman in any capacity.

On February 10, 2006, respondent filed a claim for the recovery of disability benefits, illness allowance, and reimbursement of medical expenses, damages and attorneys fees. In his position paper, respondent contended that the disease was work related, that in the performance of his duties he was exposed to injurious and harmful chemicals.

Petitioners on the other hand argued that respondent filed a labor case even before the company physician has completed its examination and treatment of respondents condition which prompted them to deny the claim for disability benefits. Petitioners also argued that the independent physician could not have arrived at a competent diagnosis of respondents condition as the latter was only examined once.

LA ruled that while respondent was under the care of Dr. Cruz from September 18, 2005 until April 19, 2006, the latter could have come up with a declaration of fitness or disability, yet he did not; that respondents illness rendered him unfit for duty and required bypass surgery to treat the same; and that respondents condition constituted permanent total disability as the same is equivalent to Impediment Grade 1 (120%) as assessed by Dr. Vicaldo, which thus entitles respondent to the maximum disability compensation of US$60,000.00.

ISSUE: Whether or not respondent is entitled to disability benefits

HELD: Yes.

Labor Law: it is not the injury which is compensated, but rather it is the incapacity to work resulting in the impairment of ones earning capacity.

Petitioners failed to refute respondents allegations in his Position Paper that in the performance of his duties as Able Seaman, he inhaled, was exposed to, and came into direct contact with various injurious and harmful chemicals, dust, fumes/emissions, and other irritant agents; that he performed strenuous tasks such as lifting, pulling, pushing and/or moving equipment and materials on board the ship; that he was constantly exposed to varying temperatures of extreme hot and cold as the ship crossed ocean boundaries; that he was exposed as well to harsh weather conditions; that in most instances, he was required to perform overtime work; and that the work of an Able Seaman is both physically and mentally stressful. It does not require much imagination to realize or conclude that these tasks could very well cause the illness that respondent, then already 47 years old, suffered from six months into his employment contract with petitioners.

His constant exposure to hazards such as chemicals and the varying temperature, like the heat in the kitchen of the vessel and the coldness outside, coupled by stressful tasks in his employment caused, or at least aggravated, his illness. It is already recognized that any kind of work or labor produces stress and strain normally resulting in wear and tear of the human body.

The company-designated physician must arrive at a definite assessment of the seafarer's fitness to work or permanent disability within the period of 120 or 240 days, pursuant to Article 192 (c)(l) of the Labor Code and Rule X, Section 2 of the Amended Rules on Employees Compensation (AREC). If he fails to do so and the seafarer's medical condition remains unresolved, the latter shall be deemed totally and permanently disabled. On the other hand, an employee's disability becomes permanent and total even before the lapse of the statutory 240-day treatment period, when it becomes evident that the employee's disability continues and he is unable to engage in gainful employment during such period because, for instance, he underwent surgery and it evidently appears that he could not recover therefrom within the statutory period.

Concededly, the period September 18, 2005 to April 19, 2006 is less than the statutory 240-day or 8-month period. Nonetheless, it is impossible to expect that by May 19, 2006, or on the last day of the statutory 240-day period, respondent would be declared fit to work when just recently or on February 24, 2006 he underwent coronary artery bypass graft surgery; by then, respondent would not have sufficiently recovered. In other words, it became evident as early as April 19, 2006 that respondent was permanently and totally disabled, unfit to return to work as seafarer and earn therefrom, given his delicate post-operative condition.