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SC says illness must be tied to work to justify payment


THE Supreme Court (SC) has upheld an appeals court decision that rejecting a seafarer’s claim for permanent disability benefits after he was diagnosed with sleep apnea, hypertension, diabetes and tonsilitis.

In a 28-page decision released Jan. 27, the tribunal said Raegar B. Ledesma failed to prove that his medical conditions were caused by work.

“It is not sufficient for seafarers to merely allege that their illness is listed as an occupational disease under Section 32-A of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration-Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC),” Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo said in the ruling.

The chief justice said an employee must provide substantial evidence that their illness or injury is directly connected to their work to claim entitlement for compensation.

Mr. Ledesma cited the findings of a company-approved physician that found that his poor lifestyle and high-salt diet contributed to his illnesses.

In September 2014, he signed a seven-month employment contract with C.F. Sharp Crew Management, Inc. to work as the chief fireman on the M/V Regatta.

A few months into his deployment, a ship doctor diagnosed Mr. Ledesma with sleep apnea, hypertension and congestive heart failure after he reported drowsiness, lightheadedness and shortness of breath while on duty.

Upon arriving back in the Philippines on April 13, 2015, a company-approved physician concluded that his illnesses were not work-related or work-aggravated.

Mr. Ledesma then went to see a private cardiologist who deemed him unfit to perform his job as fireman and a seafarer due to his erratic blood pressure and constant drowsiness.

He filed a complaint against his employer for permanent disability benefits before a panel of voluntary arbitrators, which ruled in favor of the seafarer and ordered his employer to pay him $60,000.

The panel said Mr. Ledesma’s illnesses were specifically listed in the POEA-SEC’s list of occupational diseases.

The Court of Appeals overturned the decision since none of the medical reports showed that the illnesses were work-related.

It added that Mr. Ledesma should have consulted a third doctor after the physicians arrived at conflicting conclusions.

Under the POEA’s rules, the company-designated physician has the authority to determine if a worker sustained a permanent disability during employment.

Seafarers may consult with their own physician for a second opinion, and a third in case of conflicting assessments between the two doctors.

“The entitlement of overseas seafarers to disability benefits is a matter governed, not only by medical findings but also by law and contract,” the tribunal said citing the Court of Appeals’ decision.

“In sum, for the failure of the petitioner to prove by substantial evidence that his illnesses were work-related or work-aggravated, his complaint for permanent total disability benefits should be dismissed,” the court ruled. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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