• Disability: Company doctor’s word more credible than private phyician’s

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My father was a buffet cook in a cruise ship. He was medically repatriated by his employer since the latter found out that a sprain has paralyzed his right arm and hand. He was diagnosed by the company physician more or less 120 days from his repatriation and deemed him to be entitled to partial disability benefits, which my father disputed. He then sought a private practitioner who told him that he was entitled to permanent disability benefits. Since the diagnosis of the company doctor clashed with that of the private practitioner, will my father’s contention win over the diagnosis of the company doctor?
    Sincerely yours,
    TJ

    Dear TJ,
    Fairly recent is the case of Jebsens Maritime Inc., et. al. v. Florvin G. Rapiz (G.R. No. 218871, January 11, 2017), penned by Associate Justice Estelita Perlas-Bernabe, who reiterated the case of Ace Navigation v. Garcia (G.R. No. 207804, June 17, 2015) regarding the time limit or grant set by law for a company-designated physician to determine the nature of the disability of the company employee after medical repatriation:

    “As these provisions operate, the seafarer, upon sign-off from his vessel, must report to the company-designated physician within three (3) days from arrival for diagnosis and treatment. For the duration of the treatment but in no case to exceed 120 days, the seaman is on temporary total disability as he is totally unable to work. He receives his basic wage during this period until he is declared fit to work or his temporary disability is acknowledged by the company to be permanent, either partially or totally, as his condition is defined under the POEA-Standard Employment Contract [(SEC)] and by applicable Philippine laws. If the 120 days (sic) initial period is exceeded and no such declaration is made because the seafarer requires further medical attention, then the temporary total disability period may be extended up to a maximum of 240 days, subject to the right of the employer to declare within this period that a permanent partial or total disability already exists. The seaman may of course also be declared fit to work at any time such declaration is justified by his medical condition.
    xx xx

    “As we outlined above, a temporary total disability only becomes permanent when so declared by the company physician within the periods he is allowed to do so, or upon the expiration of the maximum 240-day medical treatment period without a declaration of either fitness to work or the existence of a permanent disability. In the present case, while the initial 120-day treatment or temporary total disability period was exceeded, the company-designated doctor duly made a declaration well within the extended 240-day period that the petitioner was fit to work.” (Emphasis and underscoring in the original)

    Assuming that your father duly reported to the company-designated physician three (3) days from disembarkation, and the medical treatment for his disability may have exceeded 120 days, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Standard Contract along with the applicable laws clearly grant the company-designated physician, provided that there was a justifiable reason, to make a determination of the nature of your father’s disability within 240 days. Hence, evidently, the category of the disability of your father does not automatically convert to a permanent one until the 240-day period lapses.

    Moreover, since your father is a party to the contract, which he signified to abide by, the same becomes the law between him and his employers. Thus, the grading or classification of the disability provided therein shall be the only basis of the benefits due to your father. While he may be able to dispute the findings, the above-case additionally reminds us that, “the assessment of the company-designated physician is more credible for having been arrived at after months of medical attendance and diagnosis, compared with the assessment of a private physician done in one day on the basis of an examination or existing medical records,” since, as the same was particularly raised, the private practitioner commissioned by the employee in Jebsens merely diagnosed and classified his disability through a one-day check-up.

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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