Abandonment of medical treatment

ABANDONMENT cannot be presumed from the seafarer’s acts as there must be deliberate intention and overt act to disregard medical treatment that will result to denial of disability or death benefits.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) contract states that in the course of the treatment, a medically-repatriated seafarer shall report regularly to the company-designated physician specifically on the prescribed dates.

The seafarer  is duty-bound to comply with his medical treatment, physical therapy sessions, including the recommended consultation to specialists to give the company-designated doctor the opportunity to determine his fitness to work or to assess the degree of his disability.

Failure of the seafarer to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement shall result in his forfeiture of the right to claim the appropriate medical benefits.

In the case of Al Eyana vs Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc. (G.R. No. 193468 Jan. 28, 2015), the seafarer was medically repatriated due to a back injury.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the argument that he refused to undergo surgery as recommended by the company doctor.  At the time the company doctor made the disability assessment, he still presented physical therapy as an option stating in his medical certificate “as the seafarer is still young, conservative management with physical therapy has been recommended by Orthopedics.” The continuation of physical therapy and an increased Gabapentin dose were recommended.

The seafarer did not refuse treatment. He just availed himself of an option presented to him, the physical therapy instead of surgery.

Besides, even if he underwent surgery, there is likewise no assurance of full recovery. At the time, the company doctor belatedly issued the disability assessment, he could not revert back to his customary gainful occupation without subjecting himself to serious discomfort and pain. He was a utility cleaner before he was injured with tasks predominantly manual in nature involving a lot of moving, lifting and bending.

In the case of Rodel Cruz vs Magsaysay (GR. No. 204769 June 6, 2016), the Court held that the seafarer is entitled to permanent and total disability benefits amounting to US$60,000 as he is not guilty of medical abandonment.

The Court noted that there is no showing that surgery was the only way to address the seafarer’s condition and to be able to fully recover from his injury. The company-designated doctor did not inform him of such fact nor warned him of the effects of his choice.

The seafarer did not refuse medical treatment to address and resolve his condition. Abandonment cannot be presumed as there must be a deliberate intention and overt acts to disregard treatment.

In C.F. Sharp Crew Management vs Orbeta (GR No. 211111, Sept. 25, 2017), the Supreme Court did not dismiss the case on the ground of abandonment as it pointed out that the seafarer might have treated the company-designated physician’s temporary diagnosis as the final assessment of his condition, which prompted him to secure the opinion of his personal doctor and thereafter file the case prematurely.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court stressed in Wallem Maritime Services vs Quillao (GR No. 202885, Jan. 20, 2016) that failure to abide with the procedure under the POEA contract results in the seafarer’s non-entitlement to disability benefits.

The Court pointed out that his inability to continue his treatment without any valid explanation proves that he neglected his corresponding duty to continue his medical treatment.

The failure of the company doctor to issue an assessment was not of his doing but resulted from his refusal to cooperate and undergo further treatment. His inability to regularly return for his treatment caused the regress of his condition.

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Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan  law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786./PN

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