Case Digest: Francisco v. Bahia Shipping, et al.

G.R. No. 190545: November 22, 2010




Jerry M. Francisco (petitioner) entered into a shipboard employment contract on April 5, 2004 with respondent Bahia Shipping Services, Inc. (Bahia Shipping) to work for its co-respondent foreign principal Fred Olsen Cruise Lines Ltd. as ordinary seaman. Petitioner went through the mandatory Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME) with Maritime Clinicwhich noted that he was repatriated in January 2004 while serving under a previous contract with respondents due to aGeneralized Tonic-Clonic Type Seizure Disorder.

Petitioner boarded the vessel on April 24, 2004 but was repatriated on June 3, 2004, after histonic-clonic seizures recurred, having suffered four to five fits of seizures nighttime of May 26, 2004, and the ship doctor having found that petitioner was not fit to continue employment at sea.

Petitioner continued to avail of his follow-up check-ups and re-evaluations with the company-designated physicians from June to September 2004. After the lapse of the 120-day period following petitioners repatriation, respondents informed him that further medical expenses would be on his own account.

Petitioner consulted a private, independent physician, Dr. Efren R. Vicaldo (Dr. Vicaldo. Dr. Vicaldo deemed petitioners illness as work-aggravated, found him unfit to resume work as seaman in any capacity and was not expected to land a gainful employment.

Thus, petitioner filed a a Complaint with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) for payment of disability benefits, illness allowance, reimbursement of medical expenses, damages and attorneys fees against respondents.

The LA ruled in petitioners favor, holding that he got ill during the effectivity of his employment contract, hence, entitled to disability benefits. Had the illness been pre-existing, the Labor Arbiter held that it could have been discovered during the PEME.

NLRC overturned the Labor Arbiters Decision holding that the illness of petitioner was pre-existing in nature because it was the same illness for which he was medically repatriated under a previous contract with respondents.

On appeal, the CA upheld the NLRC decision. Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied. Hence, this petition.
Whether or not petitioner is entitled to disability benefits



Given that the employment of a seafarer is governed by the contract he signs every time he is rehired and his employment is terminated when his contract expires,petitioners illness during his previous contract with respondents is deemed pre-existing during his subsequent contract.

That petitioner was subsequently rehired by respondents despite knowledge of his seizure attacks does not make the latter a guarantor of his health. A seafarer only needs to pass the mandatory PEME in order to be deployed on duty at sea. Notably, petitioner was consistently declared "fit to work" at sea after every PEME. However, while PEME may reveal enough for respondents to decide whether a seafarer is fit for overseas employment, it may not be relied upon as reflective of petitioners true state of health. The PEME could not have revealed petitioners illness as the examinations were not exploratory.

But even granting arguendo that petitioners illness was not pre-existing, he still had to show that his illness not only occurredduringthetermofhiscontractbut also that it resulted from awork-relatedinjury or illness, or at the very least aggravated by the conditions of the work for which he was contracted for.Petitioner failed to discharge this burden, however.

That the exact and definite cause of petitioners illness is unknown cannot be used to justify grant of disability benefits, absent proof that there is any reasonable connection between work actually performed by petitioner and his illness.

It bears noting that the company-designated physician of respondent who monitored petitioners condition and treatment for several months categorically stated that petitioners illness is not work-related was controverted by petitioners own physician, however. Section 20 (B) of the POEA Standard Contract provides that if a doctor appointed by the seafarer disagrees with the assessment, a third doctor may be agreed jointly between the employer and the seafarer. The third doctors decision shall be final and binding on both parties. This procedure however was not availed of by the parties.

While the Court adheres to the principle of liberality in favor of the seafarer in construing the POEA Standard Contract, it cannot allow claims for compensation based on surmises. When the evidence presented then negates compensability, the claim must fail, lest it causes injustice to the employer.