Philippines Supreme Court bars seafarer’s claim due to concealment

UK Club has reported on a Philippines Supreme Court case in which a seafarer had a claim denied because he had concealed an important medical condition from his employers.

The sailor was engaged on-board the ship after passing his pre-employment medical examination (PEME). However, while on-board he suffered a stroke which necessitated his repatriation. He was referred to the company-designated physician (CDP) and after due treatment was declared fit to work.

The seafarer then filed a claim before the Labour Arbiter (LA) for disability benefits. He had to hand a second medical opinion stating that he was suffering from a grade 7 disability and was permanently unfit to work. In the same medical report it was also stated that the seafarer had a history of hypertension since 2013. but without maintenance medication. The company resisted the claim because (a) the seafarer was declared fit to work and (b) that he concealed his hypertension during the PEME.

The Labour Arbiter dismissed the claim, upholding the arguments of the company. Upon appeal, the National Lab our Relations Commission (NLRC) affirmed the decision of the Labour Arbiter. However, the Court of Appeal granted the claim for benefits of the seafarer. The Appeal Court found that that the seafarer’s illness was work-related. It also gave credence to the findings of the seafarer’s doctor. The Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal decision.

The Supreme Court agreed with the argument of the company that the seafarer had committed concealment. The seafarer had during his PEME ticked “NO” when asked if he had suffered from, been diagnosed, or sought advice or treatment from a medical doctor for High Blood Pressure or hypertension.

In the medical report prepared by the seafarer’s own doctor it was indicated that the sailor had a history of hypertension since 2013, without maintenance medication. The seafarer argued that, even if an illness was pre-existing, the same was compensable if the condition was aggravated by his working conditions.

The Supreme Court rejected this line of argument, finding that the presence of a pre-existing illness was not the issue of the case. What mattered was the concealment. That barred his claim based on the provision of the POEA Contract.

Pacific Ocean Manning, Inc., V Group Manpower Services, Ltd., et. v. M.D., G.R. No. 239169, August 30, 2023; First Division extended resolution (Attys. Aldrich Del Rosario and Florencio Aquino of DelRosarioLaw handled for vessel interests).

The UK P&I Club thanked its legal correspondent, Del Rosario & Del Rosario, for preparing the case summary.