Sunday, March 6, 2016

Work-related illness, injury, death; presumption of compensability


“x x x.

The Court's Ruling

Deemed incorporated in every seafarer’s employment contract, denominated as the POEA-SEC or the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration-Standard Employment Contract, is a set of standard provisions determined and implemented by the POEA, called the "Standard Terms and Conditions Governing the Employment of Filipino Seafarers on Board Ocean Going Vessels," which are considered to be the minimum requirements acceptable to the government for the employment of Filipino seafarers on board foreign ocean-going vessels.47

Among other basic provisions, the POEA-SEC – specifically, its 2000 version – stipulates that the beneficiaries of a deceased seafarer may be able to claim death benefits for as long as they are able to establish that (a) the seafarer’s death is work-related, and (b) such death had occurred during the term of his employment contract. These requirements are explicitly stated in Section 20 (A) (1) thereof, which reads:



1. In the case of work-related death of the seafarer, during the term of his contract the employer shall pay his beneficiaries the Philippine Currency equivalent to the amount of Fifty Thousand US dollars (US$50,000) and an additional amount of Seven Thousand US dollars (US$7,000) to each child under the age of twenty-one (21) but not exceeding four (4) children, at the exchange rate prevailing during the time of payment. (Emphases supplied)

After an assiduous examination of the records, and as will be expounded on below, the Court, similar to both the LA and the NLRC, finds that the above-stated requirements positively attend petitioner’s claim for death benefits.

I. The Death of the Seafarer is Work-Related.

In the recent case of Canuel v. Magsaysay Maritime Corporation48 (Canuel), the Court clarified that the term "work-related death" refers to the seafarer’s death resulting from a work-related injury or illness.

Under the 2000 POEA-SEC, the terms "work-related injury" and "work-related illness" are, in turn, defined as follows:

Definition of Terms:

For purposes of this contract, the following terms are defined as follows:

x x x x

11. Work-Related Injury – injury(ies) resulting indisability or death arising out of and in the course of employment.

12. Work-Related Illness – any sickness resulting todisability or deathas a result of an occupational disease listed under Section 32-A of this contract with the conditions set therein satisfied. (Emphases supplied)

Case law explains that "[t]he 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."49

In this case, respondents submit that petitioner was unable to prove that Rodolfo’s illness, i.e., Brainstem (pontine) Cavernous Malformation, which had supposedly supervened during the term of his employment on board the vessel MS Prinsendam, was not related to his work.50 To bolster the argument, respondents point to the fact that Brainstem (pontine) Cavernous Malformation is not listed as an occupational disease under Section 32-A51 of the 2000 POEA-SEC.

The contention is untenable.

While it is true that Brainstem (pontine) Cavernous Malformation is not listed as an occupational disease under Section 32-A of the 2000 POEASEC, Section 20 (B) (4) of the same explicitly provides that "[t[he liabilities of the employer when the seafarer suffers work-related injury or illness during the term of his contract are as follows: (t)hose illnesses not listed in Section 32 of this Contract are disputably presumed as work related." In other words, the 2000 POEA-SEC "has created a disputable presumption in favor of compensability[,] saying that those illnesses not listed in Section 32 are disputably presumed as work-related. This means that even if the illness is not listed under Section 32-Aof the POEA-SEC as an occupational disease or illness, it will still be presumed as work-related, and it becomes incumbent on the employer to overcome the presumption."52 This presumption should be overturned only when the employer’s refutation is found to be supported by substantial evidence,53 which, as traditionally defined is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as sufficient to support a conclusion."54 

As held in the case of Magsaysay Maritime Services v. Laurel:55

Anent the issue as to who has the burden to prove entitlement to disability benefits, the petitioners argue that the burden is placed upon Laurel to prove his claim that his illness was work-related and compensable. Their posture does not persuade the Court.

True, hyperthyroidism is not listed as an occupational disease under Section 32-A of the 2000 POEA-SEC. Nonetheless, Section 20 (B), paragraph (4) of the said POEA-SECstates that "those illnesses not listed in Section 32 of this Contract are disputably presumed as workrelated." The said provision explicitly establishes a presumption of compensability although disputable by substantial evidence. The presumption operates in favor of Laurel as the burden rests upon the employer to overcome the statutory presumption. Hence, unless contrary evidence is presented by the seafarer’s employer/s, this disputable presumption stands. In the case at bench, other than the alleged declaration of the attending physician that Laurel’s illness was not work-related, the petitioners failed to discharge their burden. In fact, they even conceded that hyperthyroidism may be caused by environmental factor.56

Similarly in Jebsens Maritime, Inc. v. Babol:57

The Principle of Work-relation

The 2000 POEA-SEC contract governs the claims for disability benefits by respondent as he was employed by the petitioners in September of 2006.

Pursuant to the said contract, the injury or illness must be work related and must have existed during the term of the seafarer’s employment in order for compensability to arise. Work-relation must, therefore, be established.

As a general rule, the principle of work-relation requires that the disease in question must be one of those listed as an occupational disease under Sec. 32-A of the POEA-SEC. Nevertheless, should it be not classified as occupational in nature, Section 20 (B) paragraph 4 of the POEA-SEC provides that such diseases are disputed are disputably presumed as work-related.

In this case, it is undisputed that NPC afflicted respondent while on board the petitioners’ vessel. As a non-occupational disease, it has the disputable presumption of being work-related. This presumption obviously works in the seafarer’s favor. Hence, unless contrary evidence is presented by the employers, the work-relatedness of the disease must be sustained.

And in Fil-Star Maritime Corporation v. Rosete:58

Although Central Retinal Vein Occlusion is not listed as one of the occupational diseases under Section 32-A of the 2000 Amended Terms of POEA-SEC, the resulting disability which is loss of sight of one eye, is specifically mentioned in Section 32 thereof (Schedule of Disability or Impediment for Injuries Suffered and Diseases Including Occupational Diseases or Illness Contracted). More importantly, Section 20 (B), paragraph (4) states that "those illnesses not listed in Section 32 of this Contract are disputably presumed as work-related."

The disputable presumption that a particular injury or illness that results in disability, or in some cases death, is work-related stands in the absence of contrary evidence. In the case at bench, the said presumption was not overturned by the petitioners. Although, the employer is not the insurer of the health of his employees, he takes them as he finds them and assumes the risk of liability. Consequently, the Court concurs with the finding of the courts below that respondent’s disability is compensable.59

X x x.”