Case Digest: Varorient & Aria Maritime v. Flores

G.R. No. 161934: October 6, 2010




Petitioners employed respondent, in behalf of its foreign principal, Aria Maritime Co., Ltd. of Piraeus, Greece, for the position of Chief Officer on board M/V Aria. During his employment, the master of the vessel sent respondent to the Centre Medical de Ngodi at Doula, Cameroon, where he was treated for three days due to the shooting pain in the lower extremities, particularly on his right foot. The attending physician, Dr. R. MongouTchouakẻ, stated that he diagnosed respondent's pain on the right foot as "sciatic neuralgia" and administered "drips, injection, and acupuncture." Respondent was declared not fit to work. The doctor recommended respondents repatriation to the Philippines for continuing treatment.

After respondent was repatriated to the Philippines, he was referred to the company physician, Dr. John H.E. Cusi who, in turn, referred him to Dr. Irene B. Roman-Igual, a neurologist at Makati Medical Center. After conducting examinations, Dr. Igual observed that the "CT scan showed large disc herniation L5-S1 with 2 nerve root compression and edema" and recommended respondents "confinement for at least two weeks for P.T. physical therapy and medications; if not resolved, may need surgical decompression."

Respondent filed a complaint against petitioners, seeking reimbursement for his medical expenses and asserted that petitioners are liable to pay him sickness wages, compensatory damages, moral damages, and attorney's fees. However, respondent withdrew his claim for disability benefits with reservation to re-file a complaint should there be a recurrence of his injury.

Acting Executive Labor Arbiter Pedro C. Ramos dismissed respondent's complaint for permanent and total disability benefits, sickness wages and all other claims and, likewise, petitioners' counterclaim for damages, for lack of merit. The labor arbiter found that petitioners have substantially complied with all their obligations to respondent. On appeal, the NLRC reversed the LA decision.

Both parties filed their respective motions for reconsideration. Petitioners sought exoneration from liability, while respondent averred that the NLRC erred in excluding certain items or receipts from the reimbursable medical expenses, deducting US$1,010.00 from the award of sickness wages, not holding petitioners liable for his entire wages up to the time he would be employed with another company, and not awarding him compensatory and moral damages and attorneys fees.

Upon denial of the motion for reconsideration, petitioners appealed to the CA, which affirmed the NLRC Decision. Hence, this petition.

Whether or not respondent I entitled to sickness wages


Respondent must be entitled to sickness wages as the injury he suffered was during the course of his employment.

Contrary to petitioners' contention, respondent is entitled to sickness wages. The shooting pain on his right foot is an injury which he suffered during the course of his employment and, therefore, obligates petitioners to compensate him and provide him the appropriate medical treatment.

Respondent was repatriated to the Philippines and declared fit to work on November 7, 1997, or a total period of 141 days. Applying the said provisions of the Standard Contract, respondent is entitled to receive sickness wages, covering the maximum period of 120 days, or the amount of US$4,800.00. The NLRC, as affirmed by the CA, found that petitioners are liable to pay respondent the total amount of US$3,790.00 (US$4,800.00 less the amount of US$1,010.00 which he already received by virtue of the Receipt and Quitclaim dated June 25, 1997).

Moreover, petitioners were remiss in providing continuous treatment for respondent in accordance with the recommendation of their company physician that respondent should undergo a two-week confinement and physical therapy and, if his condition does not improve, then he would have to be subjected to surgical decompression to alleviate the pain on his right foot. Respondent's ailment required urgent medical response, thereby necessitating him to seek immediate medical attention, even at his own expense.

Petitioners argue that the Receipt and Quitclaim sufficed to cover the balance of the sickness wages, after deducting the cash advances, which respondent would be entitled to; while respondent questions the veracity of the said document. The Receipt and Quitclaim executed by respondent lacks the elements of voluntariness and free will and, therefore, does not absolve petitioners from liability in paying him the sickness wages and other monetary claims.

A perusal of the provisions of the Receipt and Quitclaim shows that respondent would be releasing and discharging petitioners from all claims, demands, causes of action, and the like in an all-encompassing manner, including the fact that he had not contracted or suffered any illness or injury in the course of his employment and that he was discharged in good and perfect health. These stipulations clearly placed respondent in a disadvantageous position vis-vis the petitioners.


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