G.R. No. 204769, June 06, 2016
MAGSAYSAY MARITIME CORP., CSCS BMTERNATIONAL NV AND/OR MARLON* RONO, Petitioners, v. RODEL A. CRUZ, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
DEL CASTILLO, J.:
The company-designated doctor is expected to arrive at a definite assessment of the fitness of the seafarer to work or to determine the degree of his disability within a period of 120 or 240 days from repatriation, as the case may be. If after the lapse of the 120/240-day period the seafarer remains incapacitated and the company-designated physician has not yet declared him fit to work or determined his degree of disability, the seafarer is deemed totally and permanently disabled.1ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
This Petition for Review on Certiorari assails the August 17, 2012 Decision2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-GR. SP No. 120464. The CA set aside the March 31, 2011 Decision3 of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in NLRC LAC No. 11-000944-10, and reinstated the September 27,2010 Decision4 of the Labor Arbiter (LA) in NLRC NCR OFW Case No. (M)ll-16203-09 ordering Magsaysay Maritime Corp. (MMC) and CSCS International NV (CSCS) to jointly and severally pay Rodel A, Cruz (respondent) US$39,180.00, as disability compensation, and 10% thereof as attorney's fees. Also challenged is the December 3,2012 CA Resolution5 denying reconsideration of its August 17,2012 Decision.
On November 5, 2007, MMC, in behalf of its foreign principal, CSCS, employed respondent as housekeeping cleaner on board the vessel Costa Fortuna. Respondent's employment was for eight months (with three months extension upon mutual consent of the parties) with basic monthly salary of €306.00 and other benefits.6 On January 27, 2008, respondent boarded the vessel.7ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On April 23, 2008, while lifting heavy objects in the course of performing his duties, respondent experienced low back pain.8 As a result, he was repatriated on June 19, 2008, and was immediately referred to Dr. Benigno A. Agbayani (Dr. Agbayani), the company-designated doctor.9ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On June 20, 2008, Dr. Agbayani noted that there was no limitation on respondent's motion but the latter still complained of pain on forward flexion of the lumbar spine.10 On July 7, 2008, respondent's magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan revealed that he was afflicted with "Mild L4-5 disc bulge [but with n]o evidence of a focal disc herniation."11 As of August 1, 2008, respondent had undergone 13 physical therapy (PT) sessions. He had shown improvement but still complained of slight but tolerable pain upon trunk flexion.12ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On September 5, 2008, Dr. Agbayani diagnosed respondent with "Discogenic pain L4/L5; Myofacial pain syndrome erection sprain S/P Provocative Discogram and [PJercutaneous Nucleoplasty." He gave respondent an interim disability rating of Grade 8 for "Moderate rigidity of two thirds loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk."13ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On September 22, 2008, Dr. Agbayani declared that despite more than 20 PT sessions, respondent showed little signs of improvement and possible surgical intervention was being considered. He noted that respondent would be referred to the Pain Management Clinic.14ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On October 2, 2008, Dr. Agbayani reported that the Pain Management Specialist recommended nucleoplasty, provocative discogram and trigger joint injection on respondent.15 On November 4, 2008, respondent successfully underwent provocative discogram and percutaneous nucleoplasty.16 On November 12, 2008, Dr. John Joseph O. Laceste (Dr. Laceste), Pain Management Specialist, declared mat respondent's "discogenic pain over the L4-5 area has improved by at least 85% to a pain score of 0-1/10."17ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On December 11, 2008, respondent underwent another MRI scan revealing that he was suffering from mild degenerative changes in the lumbar spine which remained unchanged when compared to his July 7, 2008 MRI scan.18 On December 12, 2008, Dr. Agbayani declared that respondent's illness was work-related.19ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On January 21, 2009, respondent received sickness allowance for 120 days (from June 18,2008 to October 15, 2008) amounting to €1,198.66.20ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On February 12, 2009, Dr. Agbayani reported that respondent's condition had not improved despite various treatments since April 2008. Nevertheless, he reiterated that respondent's condition was work-related.21ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On March 10, 2009, respondent's MRI scan showed that there was "small central disc protrusion with disc desiccation changes at L4-L5 level" but there were no compression deformities, spondylolisthesis nor spinal canal stenosis.22ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On June 1, 2009, after almost one year from respondent's repatriation, Dr. Agbayani gave respondent a disability rating of Grade 8 for "moderate rigidity or two third loss of motion or lifting power of the trunk."23ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On June 11, 2009, Dr. Laceste noted respondent's slight numbness over his right buttock and posterior thigh when standing for one to two minutes, and his pain over the L4-L5 area as well as slight tenderness of his sacro-iliac joints.24ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Consequently, on November 25, 2009, respondent filed a Complaint25 for permanent and total disability benefits, sickness allowance, damages and attorney's fees against MMC, Marlon Rono, its President, and CSCS (petitioners).26ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On February 5, 2010, respondent's physician-of-choice, Dr. Venancio P. Garduce27 (Dr. Garduce), opined that it would be impossible for respondent to work as a seaman and recommended a disability rating of Grade 3.28ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Respondent argued that he is entitled to disability benefits because of the reasonable connection between his work and his illness. He stressed that before his embarkation lie was declared fit to work; as such, it can be logically inferred that he acquired his illness while aboard the vessel and by reason of its harsh working environment. He added that he is entitled to disability benefits as he already suffered loss and impairment in his earning capacity.29ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Respondent denied that he is guilty of medical abandonment and insisted that he did not cause delay in his treatment.30 According to him, his refusal to undergo surgery was valid as he previously experienced "pre-operative awareness" which caused post-traumatic stress disorder. Allegedly, he feared that he would experience the same trauma if an operation be pursued.31ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
For their part, petitioners affirmed that after having been medically repatriated respondent was diagnosed of mild L4-L5 disc bulge. They, nonetheless, asserted that respondent underwent PT sessions but in September 2008, he started to malinger and complained of pain; thus, his attending doctor referred him to a Pain Management Team. They alleged that respondent abandoned his scheduled nucleoplasty on October 24, 2008 but admitted that the procedure pushed through on November 4, 2008.32 They also averred that respondent refused to undergo the surgery scheduled on February 23, 2009.33 They insisted that respondent is estopped from claiming permanent and total disability benefits because the delay in his treatment is due to his own fault.34ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Ruling of the Labor Arbiter
On September 27, 2010, the LA rendered his Decision35 ordering MMC and CSCS to jointly and severally pay respondent disability compensation amounting to US$39,180.00 or its peso equivalent at the time of payment and 10% thereof as attorney's fees.
According to the LA, respondent already received siqkness allowance for 120 days amounting to €1,198.66. Thus, the only remaining issue is whether he is entitled to disability benefits. On this, the LA gave credence to the fact that respondent was medically repatriated and that his "lumbajr disc disease (disc desiccation) L4-L5 with mild disc herniation lumbar" was work-related, as confirmed by the company-designated doctor himself. Accordingly, the LA awarded disability benefits to respondent amounting to US$39,180.00 based on the Grade 3 disability rating given by respondent's physician-of-choice. He also awarded attorney's fees to respondent as he was compelled to litigate and incur expenses to protect his rights.
Petitioners appealed before the NLRC.
According to petitioners, respondent was guilty of delay and medical abandonment. They, however, contended that should respondent be entitled to disability benefits, the same must be pursuant to a Grade 8 disability rating given by the company-designated doctor. They also posited that the award of attorney's fees was unjustified as there were valid grounds denying respondent's claim for disability compensation.
Ruling of the National Labor Relations Commission
Oh March 31, 2011, the NLRC modified36 the LA Decision. It found respondent entitled to partial and permanent disability compensation of Grade 8 amounting to US$16,795.00.
The NLRC upheld the company-designated physician's Grade 8 disability rating on the ground that it was supported by medical findings and was arrived at after close monitoring and treatment of respondent. It also deleted the award of attorney's fees as petitioners faithfully complied with their duties, including payment! of sickness allowance.
On May 19, 2011, the NLRC denied37 respondent's Motion for Reconsideration.
Respondent filed a Petition for Certiorari with the CA arguing that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it ruled that he is not entitled to US$39,180.00 and to attorney's fees.
Ruling of the Court of Appeals
On August 17, 2012, the CA granted38 the Petition and accordingly set aside the March 31, 2011 NLRC Decision. The dispositive portion of the CA Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is GRANTED and the assailed NLRC Decision dated 31 March 2011 in NLRC LAC No. 11-000944-10 is NULLIFIED and SET ASIDE. In lieu thereof, the Labor Arbiter's Decision dated 27 September 2010 in NLRC NCR OFW CASE No. (M)l 1-16203-09 is REINSTATED.39
[CAN] RESPONDENT [BE] PRESUMED TOTALLY AND PERMANENTLY DISABLED ENTITLING HIM TO MAXIMUM BENEFITS UNDER THE EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT?
AS BETWEEN THE COMPANY-DESIGNATED DOCTORS (WHO ADMINISTERED TREATMENT AND MONITORED TREATMENT) AND A PRIVATE DOCTOR FROM WHOM MERELY A 'SECOND' OPINION WAS SOUGHT, WHOSE FINDING MUST PREVAIL?42cralawred
In view of these disputed facts, this Office finds and, so hold, that [petitioners] should be held liable to [respondent] for total and permanent disability benefits x x x
x x x x
[Respondent] is now in a state of permanent and total disability because of his illness. He could no longer return to his job as Housekeeping Cleaner, neither can he find any employment as seaman on board ocean-going vessel. In short, [respondent] is totally and permanently unfit for sea-service now and in the future.51
In arriving at its decision, the NLRC had obviously overlooked the fact that [respondent's] disability had already rendered him unable to perform his customary job for more than 120 days - thus making his disability total and permanent, x x x
The records show that [respondent] was repatriated to the Philippines on June 19,2008 and had since received continuous medical treatment. It was only a year later, or on June 1, 2009, that Dr. Agbayani was able to assess [respondent's] disability as Grade 8. However, even until June 11, 2009, [respondent] was still prescribed medication and attended to by Dr. Laceste for pain management. Due to his continuing medical treatment, [respondent] was rendered unable to work or resume employment for a continuous period of more than 120 days.52
*Spelled in some parts of the records as Marlo.
**Per Special Order No. 2353 dated June 2,2016.
On official leave.
1Carcedo v. Maine Marine Philippines, Inc., G.R. No. 203 804, April 15, 2015.
2 CA rollo, pp. 403-417; penned by Associate Justice Rebecca de Guia-Salvador and concurred in by Associate Justices Apolinario D. Bmselas, Jr. and Samuel H. Gaerlan.
3 Id. at 28-35; penned by Commissioner Napoleon M. Menese and concurred in by Presiding Commissioner Raul T. Aquino and Commissioner Teresita D. Castillon-Lora.
4 Id. at 160-168; penned by Labor Arbiter Arden S. Anni.
5 Id. at 461-462.
6 Id. at 50.
7 Id. at 40.
9 Id. at 40, 58.
10 Id. at 81.
11 Id. at 51.
12 Id. at 84.
13 Id. at 445.
14 Id. at 85.
15 Id. at 87.
16 Id. at 90.
17 Id. at 91.
18 Id. at 52.
19 Id. at 92.
20 Id. at 96.
21 Id. at 93-94.
22 Id. at 53.
23 Id. at 269.
24 Id. at 54.chanrobleslaw
25 Id. at 305-306.
26 Id. at 40.
27 Spelled in some part of the records as Garduque.
28 Id. at 55.
29 Id. at 43-45.
30 Id. at 98.
31 Id. at 100.
32 Id. at 58-61.
33 Id. at 63.
34 Id. at 66.
35 Id. at 160-168.
36 Id. at 28-35.
37 Id. at 37-38.
38 Id. at 403-417,
39 Id. at 416-417.
40 Article 2208. In the absence of stipulation, attorney's fees and expenses of litigation, other than judicial costs, cannot be recovered, except:
x x x x
(2) When the defendant's act or omission has compelled the plaintiff to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his interest;
x x x x
(8) In actions for indemnity under workmen's compensation and employer's liability laws[.]
41 CA rollo, pp. 461-462.
42Rollo, p. 34.
43Tagle v. Anglo-Eastern Crew Management, Phils., Inc., G.R. No. 209302, July 9, 2014, 729 SCRA 677, 687.
44 694 Phil. 268, 270-271, 281 (2012).
45 Id. at 281.
46 CA rollo, p. 445.
47 See Tagle v. Anglo-Eastern Crew Management Phils., Inc., supra 43 note at 693-694.
48 Supra note 1
50Alpha Ship Management Corp. v. Cab, G.R. No. 192034, January 13,2014, 713 SCRA 119, 140.
51 CA rollo, pp. 165-166.
52 Id. at413-415; bold-facing in the original.
53Eyana v. Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc., G.R. No. 193468, January 28, 2015.
54 CA rollo, p. 166.