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Who Gets to Decide Degree of Disability of Seafarer?

In determining the degree of disability of a seafarer, should the assessment of the company-designated physician prevail over that of the physician appointed by the seafarer?


Yes. And this is the story.


On March 30, 2011, Floro Tripon boarded the vessel M/V Mercury as a cook for a period of 10 months. In September 2011, he experienced excruciating pain and swelling on his right wrist/forearm while lifting a heavy load of meat. The ship doctor found him suffering from severe “Tendovaginitis DeQuevain”. As it was not possible for him to work without the use of his right forearm, he was repatriated to the Philippines.


After lengthy treatment, the company-designated physician issued a final medical report which found Tripon’s disability as permanent and partial (“Grade 11” pursuant to the disability grading under the 2010 Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Standard Employment Contract).


Dissatisfied, Tripon consulted an independent physician who classified his condition as a “GRADE 10” disability. Hence, he demanded payment of the corresponding sum for total and permanent disability benefits from the crewing agency. The agency denied his claim. As the parties failed to amicably settle the case, the same was submitted to a voluntary arbitrator [VA] for adjudication.


Tripon argued that although the disability ratings were different, he is entitled to permanent and total disability benefits as he was unable to work as a cook for a period of 120 days from his medical repatriation. But the crewing agency maintained he is only entitled to “GRADE 11” disability benefits pursuant to the classification made by the company-designated physician.


The VA ruled in favor of Tripon, ordering the crewing agency to pay permanent and total disability benefits [Grade 11] plus attorney’s fees.


The crewing agency appealed the case to the Court of Appeals [CA]. But the CA sustained the decision of the VA.


When the case was elevated to the Supreme Court, the court ruled in the following tenor:


x x x . In view of the final disability rating made by the company-designated physician classifying respondent’s [TRIPON] disability as merely permanent and partial – which was not refuted by the independent physician except that respondent’s condition was classified as Grade 10 disability – it is plain error to award permanent and total disability benefits to respondent.


X x x. As already adverted to, there is a slight discrepancy with the classifications of the aforesaid physicians, as the former rated respondent’s disability as Grade 11, while the latter’s rating was Grade 10. In this regard, the Court rules that the findings of the company-designated physician should prevail, considering that he examined, diagnosed, and treated respondent from his repatriation on October 14, 2011 until he was assessed with a Grade 11 disability rating on January 24, 2012; whereas the independent physician only examined him sparingly on March 13, 2012. x x x 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. x x x.


Therefore, it may be important to know the duration of the examination, diagnosis and treatment of the seafarer after his medical repatriation. But what if the period of medical attendance and diagnosis of the private physician is more less the same as that of the company-designated physician? Whose assessment should prevail? Next story, please.


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