Pre-existing condition unimportant in compensation claim for work-related injury

In the case of Canuel v. Magsaysay Maritime Corporation,[1] Nancing R. Canuel (Nancing) was hired by respondent Magsaysay Maritime Corporation (Magsaysay) as Third Assistant Engineer for its foreign principal, respondent Kotani Shipmanagement Limited (Kotani), to be deployed on board the vessel M/V North Sea (vessel) for a period of twelve (12) months, with a basic salary of US$640.00 a month. He underwent the required pre-employment medical examination, and was declared fit to work by the company-designated physician. Thereafter, he joined the vessel and commenced his work on July 19, 2006.On February 20, 2007, Nancing figured in an accident while in the performance of his duties on board the vessel, and, as a result, injured the right side of his body.

According to the Supreme court, Nancing suffered a work-related injury within the term of his employment contract when he figured in an accident while performing his duties as Third Assistant Engineer at cylinder number 7 of the vessel on February 20, 2007. The foregoing circumstances aptly fit the legal attribution of the phrase “arising out of and in the course of employment” which the Court, in the early case of Iloilo Dock & Engineering Co. v. Workmen’s Compensation Commission,[2] pronounced as follows:

The two components of the coverage formula – “arising out of” and “in the course of employment” – are said to be separate tests which must be independently satisfied; however, it should not be forgotten that the basic concept of compensation coverage is unitary, not dual, and is best expressed in the word, “work-connection,” because an uncompromising insistence on an independent application of each of the two portions of the test can, in certain cases, exclude clearly work-connected injuries. The words “arising out of” refer to the origin or cause of the accident, and are descriptive of its character, while the words “in the course of” refer to the time, place, and circumstances under which the accident takes place.

As a matter of general proposition, an injury or accident is said to arise “in the course of employment” when it takes place within the period of the employment, at a place where the employee reasonably may be, and while he is fulfilling his duties or is engaged in doing something incidental thereto[3] (Emphases supplied; citations omitted)

That Nancing was suffering from lung cancer, which was found to have been pre-existing, hardly impels a contrary conclusion since – as the LA herein earlier noted – the February 20, 2007 injury actually led to the deterioration of his condition.[4]

As held in More Maritime Agencies, Inc. v. NLRC,[5] “[i]f the injury is the proximate cause of [the seafarer’s] death or disability for which compensation is sought, [his] previous physical condition x x x is unimportant and recovery may be had for injury independent of any pre-existing weakness or disease,” viz.:

Compensability x x x does not depend on whether the injury or disease was pre-existing at the time of the employment but rather if the disease or injury is work-related or aggravated his condition. It is indeed safe to presume that, at the very least, the arduous nature of [the seafarer’s] employment had contributed to the aggravation of his injury, if indeed it was pre-existing at the time of his employment. Therefore, it is but just that he be duly compensated for it. It is not necessary, in order for an employee to recover compensation, that he must have been in perfect condition or health at the time he received the injury, or that he be free from disease. Every workman brings with him to his employment certain infirmities, and while the employer is not the insurer of the health of his employees, he takes them as he finds them, and assumes the risk of having a weakened condition aggravated by some injury which might not hurt or bother a perfectly normal, healthy person. If the injury is the proximate cause of his death or disability for which compensation is sought, the previous physical condition of the employee is unimportant and recovery may be had for injury independent of any pre-existing weakness or disease. [6] (Emphases and underscoring supplied)

Clearly, Nancing’s injury was the proximate cause of his death considering that the same, unbroken by any efficient, intervening cause, triggered the following sequence of events: (a) Nancing’s hospitalization at the Shanghai Seamen’s Hospital[7] where he was diagnosed with “bilateral closed traumatic haemothorax”;[8] (b) his repatriation and eventual admission to the Manila Doctor’s Hospital;[9] and (c) his acute respiratory failure, which was declared to be the immediate cause of his death.[10]

Thus, for the foregoing reasons, it cannot be seriously disputed that the first requirement for death compensability concurs in this case.


[2] 135 Phil. 95 (1968).

[3] Id. at 97-98.

[4] Rollo, pp. 120-121.

[5] 366 Phil. 646 (1999).

[6] Id. at 654-655.

[7] Rollo, pp. 156-157

[8] Id. at 41. See also id. at 46 and 255-256.

[9] Id. at 156.

[10] Id. at 49 and 156.