Seafarer allowed to initiate action for total, permanent disability benefits

In the case of C.F. Sharp Crew Management, Inc. v. Taok (G.R. No. 193679, July 18, 2012), the Court specified the instances when a seafarer may be allowed to initiate an action for total and permanent disability benefits, to wit:

(a) The company-designated physician failed to issue a declaration as to his fitness to engage in sea duty or disability even after the lapse of the 120-day period and there is no indication that further medical treatment would address his temporary total disability, hence, justify an extension of the period to 240 days; 

(b) 240 days had lapsed without any certification issued by the company designated physician; 

(c) The company-designated physician declared that he is fit for sea duty within the 120-day or 240-day period, as the case may be, but his physician of choice and the doctor chosen under Section 20-B(3) of the POEA-SEC are of a contrary opinion; 

(d) The company-designated physician acknowledged that he is partially permanently disabled but other doctors whom he consulted, on his own and jointly with his employer, believed that his disability is not only permanent but total as well; 

(e) The company-designated physician recognized that he is totally and permanently disabled but there is a dispute on the disability grading; 

(f) The company-designated physician determined that his medical condition is not compensable or work-related under the POEA-SEC but his doctor-of-choice and the third doctor selected under Section 20-B(3) of the POEA-SEC found otherwise and declared him unfit to work; 

(g) The company-designated physician declared him totally and permanently disabled but the employer refuses to pay him the corresponding benefits; and 

(h) The company-designated physician declared him partially and permanently disabled within the 120-day or 240-day period but he remains incapacitated to perform his usual sea duties after the lapse of said periods.

It is the company-designated physician who is entrusted with the task of assessing the seaman's disability, whether total or partial, due to either injury or illness, during the term of the latter's employment (Coastal Safeway Marine Services, Inc. v. Esguerra, 671 Phil. 56, 65-66 (2011); German Marine Agencies, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, 403 Phil. 572, 588 [2001]). Indeed, the seafarer has the right to seek the opinion of other doctors under Section 20-B(3) of the POEA-SEC but this is on the presumption that the company-designated physician had already issued a final certification as to his fitness or disability and he disagreed with it.