SC affirms ruling denying seafarer disability claim

THE Supreme Court (SC) affirmed an appeals court decision to deny a seafarer’s permanent disability claim worth $60,000, saying the claim was filed prematurely.

In a nine-page resolution made public on Jan. 6, the tribunal said Edward Caranto filed for permanent disability in 2014 before the treatment period for a swollen right foot ended.

“It was only after the filing of his complaint in court that he sought the opinion of his physician of choice,” it said in the ruling.

The tribunal noted that even if the personal doctor deemed him unfit to return to duty, he did not obtain an assessment from a company-approved doctor.

Under the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency’s rules, an injured worker has a treatment period of 240 days if a company-approved physician fails to give an assessment of the injury sustained.

Only a physician chosen by the employer has the authority to determine if a worker sustained permanent disability during employment.

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

Mr. Caranto sustained the injury after falling into a sewer while performing his duties.

He underwent surgery and multiple physical therapy sessions. An orthopedic specialist had deemed him unfit to return to sea duty.

The seafarer then filed a claim with the labor arbiter, which ordered Seacrest Maritime Management, Inc., his employer, to pay him $60,000 in disability benefits and plus legal fees.

Seacrest appealed the decision to the National Labor Relations Commission, which affirmed the benefits.

However, the Court of Appeals reduced the amount awarded to Mr. Caranto to P26,477, finding that he was only entitled to unpaid sickness allowance because he filed the claim before permanent disability could be determined.

“Clearly then, petitioner had no cause of action to support his claim for total and permanent disability,” the SC said.

“So, even if his orthopedic specialist found petitioner unfit to return to sea duty, the lack of a previous assessment from the company-designated physician, coupled with petitioner’s belated consultation with his choice of physician, denied him the right to seek a total disability claim with this court.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez