Company-designated physician's assessment in seafarer's disability claims

Section 20(B)(3) of the POEA-SEC provides:
Upon sign-off from the vessel for medical treatment, the seafarer is entitled to sickness allowance equivalent to his basic wage until he is declared fit to work or the degree of permanent disability has been assessed by the company-designated physician but in no case shall this period exceed one hundred twenty (120) days.

For this purpose, the seafarer shall submit himself to a post-employment medical examination by a company-designated physician within three working days upon his return except when he is physically incapacitated to do so, in which case, a written notice to the agency within the same period is deemed compliance. Failure of the seafarer to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement shall result in his forfeiture of the right to claim the above benefits.

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 doctor’s decision shall be final and binding on both parties.
“It is beyond cavil that it is the company-designated physician who is entrusted with the task of assessing the seaman’s disability.”[1] It is the company-designated physician’s findings which should form the basis of any disability claim of the seafarer. Such assessment is arrived at after the seafarer submits himself to the company-designated physician for a post employment medical examination within three days from his repatriation. It is significant to note, however, that courts are not bound by the assessment of the company-designated physician.[2] While the company-designated physician must declare the nature of a seafarer’s disability, the former’s declaration is not conclusive and final upon the latter or the court.[3] Its inherent merit will still be weighed and duly considered.

In Racelis v. United Philippine Lines, Inc.,[4] the medical opinion presented by the employer stating that the seafarer’s ailment is congenital in origin was discarded by the Supreme Court because the opinion came from a physician who did not personally attend to the seafarer in the course of the latter’s medical treatment and for being unsubstantiated by any medical findings. The ailment which caused the seafarer’s death was held by the Supreme Court to be work-related for failure of the employer to overcome the statutory presumption of work-relatedness. Similarly, in Jebsens Maritime, Inc. v. Babol,[5] the Supreme Court did not give probative weight on the company doctor’s opinion that the seafarer’s condition is not work-related as the wordings used in the doctor’s report did not make a categorical statement confirming the total absence of work relation but only a mere probability. Again, the High Court upheld the presumption of work-relation. In Magsaysay Mitsui Osk Marine, Inc. v. Bengson,[6] the Supreme Court disregarded the company-designated physician’s categorical declaration that the seafarer’s illness is not work-related for being self-serving. As the facts of the case clearly showed the contributory factor of the seafarer’s daily working conditions to the illness suffered, even in the absence of a contrary opinion of other doctors, the Supreme Court sustained the illness’ work-connection. Also, in Teekay Shipping Philippines, Inc. v. Jarin,[7] the Supreme Court ruled that it was unnecessary for the seafarer therein to consult and provide a contrary opinion from his own doctors since the causal connection between the illness and the work for which he had been contracted was clearly detailed and convincingly established by him.

[1] Magsaysay Maritime Corp. v. Velasquez, 591 Phil. 839, 851 (2008).
[2] Maunlad Transport, Inc. vs. Manigo, Jr., 577 Phil. 319, 330 (2008).
[3] Micronesia Resources v. Cantomayor, 552 Phil. 130, 143 (2007); Cadornigara vs. National Labor Relations Commission, 563 Phil. 671, 681 (2007).
[4] G.R. No. 198408, November 12, 2014.
[5] G.R. No. 204076, December 4, 2013
[6] G.R. No. 198528, October 13, 2014.
[7] G.R. No. 195598, June 25, 2014.