CASE DIGEST: Vetyard Terminals v. Suarez

G.R. No. 199344 March 5, 2014




Petitioners hired respondent Suarez to work as welder for 12 months on board its vessel. Respondent Suarez started to work but was repatriated home after four (4) months of service. When examined at the Medical City, respondent Suarez was found to be suffering from posterior cataract and pseudophakia which he claims to associate when a paint injured his eye during his work. Dr. Caparas issued a certification that Suarez's ailment, which commonly occurs after cataract operation, is not associated with his claim that paint injured an eye while he was working on board the vessel.

On August 23, 2007 Suarez filed against the Company a complaint for total and permanent disability benefits, sickness allowance, and reimbursement of medical expenses, alleging that he was painting the vessels ceiling in February 2007 when paint accidentally hit his eye for which he suffered pain. He claimed that he afterwards experienced blurred vision, yet the Company refused to give him medical and financial assistance. The Company countered that Suarez was not entitled to disability benefits since his illness was not work-related and he deliberately concealed a prior cataract operation.

The LA and NLRC dismissed Suarezs claim, holding that the cataract was the primary cause of his ailment and not paint droppings. The CA however rendered a decision setting aside the NLRC ruling.

ISSUE: Whether or not Suarezs eye ailment is compensable

HELD: No. CA decision is reversed and set aside

Labor Law - an injury or illness is compensable when, first, it is work-related and, second, the injury or illness existed during the term of the seafarers employment contract.

Section 32(A) of the 2000 POEA Amended Standard Terms and Condition further provides that for an occupational disease and the resulting disability to be compensable, the following need to be satisfied: (1) the seafarer's work must involve the risks described; (2) the disease was contracted as a result of the seafarer's exposure to the described risks; (3) the disease was contracted within a period of exposure and under such other factors necessary to contract it; and (4) there was no notorious negligence on the part of the seafarer.

Suarez had been diagnosed to suffer from posterior subscapsular cataract on his right eye and pseudophakia, and posterior capsule opacification on his left eye. For these to be regarded as occupational diseases, Suarez had to prove that the risk of contracting the disease was increased by the conditions under which he worked. The evidence must be real and substantial, and not merely apparent. It must constitute a reasonable basis for arriving at a conclusion that the conditions of his employment caused the disease or that such conditions aggravated the risk of contracting the illness.

Here, Suarez did not present substantial proof that his eye ailment was work-related. Other than his bare claim that paint droppings accidentally splashed on an eye causing blurred vision, he adduced no note or recording of the supposed accident. Nor did he present any record of some medical check-up, consultation, or treatment that he had undergone. Besides, while paint droppings can cause eye irritation, such fact alone does not ipso facto establish compensable disability. Awards of compensation cannot rest on speculations or presumptions; Suarez must prove that the paint droppings caused his blindness.

The Court is inclined to accept the findings of Dr. Caparas, the company-designated physician, that it was cataract extraction, not paint droppings that caused Suarezs ailment. The definitions of the imputed medical conditions plainly do not indicate work-relatedness.

Besides, even if the Court were to assume that Suarezs eye ailment was work-related, he still cannot claim disability benefits since he concealed his true medical condition. The records show that when Suarez underwent pre-employment medical examination (PEME), he represented that he was merely wearing corrective lens. He concealed the fact that he had a cataract operation in 2005. He told the truth only when he was being examined at the Medical City on May 18, 2007. This willful concealment of a vital information in his PEME disqualifies him from claiming disability benefits pursuant to Section 20(E) of the POEA-SEC which provides that "a seafarer who knowingly conceals and does not disclose past medical condition, disability and history in the pre-employment medical examination constitutes fraudulent misrepresentation and shall disqualify him from any compensation and benefits."