Pneumonia as an occupational illness

TO BE entitled to compensation and benefits, it is not sufficient to simply establish that the seafarer’s pneumonia has rendered him permanently or partially disabled. It must also be shown that there is a causal connection between the seafarer’s illness or injury and the work for which he had been contracted.

It is a well-known fact that seafaring is one of the most hazardous occupations, in regards to personal health and safety concerns of seafarers.

Apart from accidents, seafarers are prone to certain serious diseases and health hazards due to the nature of onboard work, change in climatic conditions, type of cargo carried, working hours, materials being handled, epidemic and endemic diseases, personal habits, etc.

Because of their nature of work, seafarers are bound to visit many ports in different parts of the world and are thus exposed to various pandemic and epidemic diseases.

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi.

Pneumonia causes inflammation in the air sacs in the lungs, which are called alveoli. The alveoli fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe.

Pneumonia can be classified according to the organism that caused the infection (bacterial, viral, mycoplasma, and fungal); where it was acquired (hospital, community); or how it is acquired (aspiration or ventilator-associated).

The seafarer is required to prove that:

(1) he suffered an illness;

(2) he suffered this illness during the term of his employment contract;

(3) he complied with the procedures prescribed under Section 20-B;

(4) his illness is one of the enumerated occupational diseases or that his illness or injury is otherwise work-related.

A seafarer suffering from any of the infections would still have to satisfy four conditions before his or her disease may be compensable:

(a) the seafarer’s work must involve the risks describe therein;

(b) the disease was contracted as a result of the seafarer’s exposure to the described risks;

(c) the disease was contracted within a period of exposure and under such factors necessary to contract it; and

(c) there was no notorious negligence on the part of the seafarer.

Since one of the requirements for an illness to be compensable is that the seafarer suffered said illness during the effectivity of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) contract, it is imperative that his condition or symptoms be documented while he is on board the vessel, such as pneumonia symptoms can be mild to life-threatening.

The most common symptoms of pneumonia include: coughing that may produce phlegm (mucus); fever, sweating, and chills; shortness of breath and chest pain. Otherwise, his claim for disability benefits might be denied due to failure to prove that said illness occurred while his contract is still in force.

The Supreme Court ruled in a case that the claimants failed to adduce substantial evidence showing that the pneumonia, which the seafarer contracted, was caused by tetanus as a result of the burn injury.  There was no medical report which would even show that tetanus was the cause as to why the seafarer suffered pneumonia that eventually caused the death. (Crew and Ship Management vs. Soria, G.R. No. 175491; December 10, 2012)

The Supreme Court likewise ruled that the causes of the seafarer’s death, as shown by his death certificate, indicate that pneumonia was simply the final illness that immediately brought about his death.

The long road to pneumonia started from an underlying cause, AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), that rendered him susceptible to the antecedent cause of tuberculosis, and to pneumonia as the immediate cause of death.

Suffice it to state for now that no evidence on record shows that seafarer’s working conditions on board as a First Engineer caused the pneumonia that brought on his death two years after he had disembarked from his vessel. (Escarcha vs. Leonis, July 5, 2010,  Gr. No. 182740)


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, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)/PN


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