Credibility of company doctor’s findings

THE FINDINGS s of the company-designated physician do not always bind the courts in determining the merits of compensation cases filed by Filipino seafarers.

In most seafarer cases for disability or death benefits claims, one of the arguments often raised by the companies or the insurance correspondents is that they are not liable to pay benefits; they point to the medical reports of the company-designated physician that the seafarer’s illness is not work-connected; that he is fit to work or that the compensation is limited to a lower amount based on a low disability grading.

They point out that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s (POEA) mandated that the seafarer’s disability can only be assessed by the company-designated physician considering that the latter had the time and the opportunity to constantly monitor the health and physical condition of the seafarer.

In the recent case of Magsaysay vs. Oliver Buenaventura (G.R. No. 195878, Jan. 10, 2018), the seafarer met an accident wherein a mooring winch crushed his right hand. As a result, he suffered a fracture of the right first metacarpal bone and open fracture of the right second metacarpal bone, which required emergency surgical procedures both done in Japan and he was later medically repatriated.

After six months, the company doctor declared him fit to work after undergoing conservative management, continuous rehabilitation physiotheraphy, and occupational therapy. He filed a case for disability benefits.

The Supreme Court denied the claims for disability benefits of the seafarer as it stressed that failure to refer the conflicting findings between the company-designated physician and the seafarer’s physician of choice grants the former’s medical opinion more weight and probative value over the latter.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court noted that it does not mean that the judicial bodies should adopt it hook, line and sinker as it may be set aside if it is shown that the findings of the company-designated physician have no scientific basis or are not supported by the medical records of the seafarer. The diagnosis of the company-designated physician may be set aside if it is attended with clear bias, manifested by the lack of scientific relation between the diagnosis and the symptom or where the opinion is not supported by the medical records.

The court also pointed out in a case that “their findings cannot be taken as gospel truth” due to the proliferation of obviously biased company doctors whose loyalty rests completely upon the company they serve and these “are palpably self-serving and biased in favor of petitioners and certainly could not be considered independent” (Wallem vs. NLRC 318 SCRA 623, United Philippine Lines, Inc. and/or Holland America Line, Inc., vs. Francisco D. Beseril, 487 SCRA 249).

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Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho is a graduate of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law (1998) and currently a junior partner at Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan (SVBB) law offices. He heads the seafarers’ division.

He is a speaker on nationwide paralegal seminars on seafarers’ rights and presently the executive vice president of the Maritime Law Association of the Philippines (MARLAW). He is also an active member of the Maritime Forum, Inc., the National Seafarers Day (NSD) committee and International Pro Bono Network.

The SVBB law works hand in hand with various seafarers’ welfare organizations such as the Apostleship of the Seas (AOS) Philippines, Luneta Seafarers Welfare Foundation (LUSWELF), International Seafarers Welfare Assistance Network (ISWAN), and United Filipino Seafarers (UFS).

Atty. Gorecho is also a legal commentator on maritime issues on print, radio and TV, and co-anchor of the radio program “Bantay OCW Usapang Marino” aired over Radio Inquirer dzIQ every Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon. (For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)/PN

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