Disability: ‘Loss or impairment of earning capacity’

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My husband’s left eye got 40 percent blinded in the course of his employment aboard a merchant vessel. The other eye was also impaired, although the company physician said it is still curable. The company physician then issued a fit-to-work order for my husband even though he said my husband still had to undergo treatment, and that permanently his left eye will only be able to see vision at 60 percent. Was the company correct in saying that my husband acquired no disability since he was certified “fit-to-work”? If his vision is curable, and the same was indeed rectified, does it mean he was no longer disabled in the course of his employment with the company so that he shall not be entitled to any benefit?
Sincerely yours,
Vicky

Dear Vicky,
Fairly recent is the case of Maersk Filipinas Crewing Inc. et al. v. Joselito R. Ramos (G.R. No. 184256, January 18, 2017) penned by the Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who extensively discussed disability in the course of employment. She defined and distinguished:

“Disability does not refer to the injury or the pain that it has occasioned, but to the loss or impairment of earning capacity. There is disability when there is a diminution of earning power because of actual absence from work. This absence must be due to the injury or illness arising from, and in the course of, employment. Thus, the basis of compensation is the reduction of earning power.

Section 2 of Rule VII of the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation provides:


(c) A disability is partial and permanent if as a result of the injury or sickness the employee suffers a permanent partial loss of the use of any part of his body. Permanent partial disability occurs when an employee loses the use of any particular anatomical part of his body which disables him to continue any part of his body.

“Permanent partial disability occurs when an employee loses the use of any particular anatomical part of his body which disables him to continue with his former work.

xx xx

“Petitioners’ argument that the injury was curable because respondent underwent cataract extraction on both eyes in 2003, and Dr. Dolor issued a medical evaluation finding that respondent’s best corrected vision for both eyes was 20/20 [with correctional glasses], are thus inconsequential. The curability of the injury “does not preclude an award for disability because, in labor laws, disability need not render the seafarer absolutely helpless or feeble to be compensable; it is enough that it incapacitates him to perform his customary work.” [Emphasis and underscoring supplied]

The situation of your husband falls squarely in the case presented. Considering that the impairment of your husband’s vision happened during the course of his employment and that this impairment rendered him helpless and feeble during such period and somehow it incapacitated him to work, such occurrence can be said to be covered by the disability compensable by law.

In sum, since there was a loss or impairment of earning capacity, on his part, he should receive the proper payment for the disability he suffered during his employment. The company-designated physician’s declaration of his fitness to work predicating on the curability of his impairment shall not preclude or stop the award of compensation in favor of your husband, albeit, he may properly claim his benefit given the above-stated reasons.

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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