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Almirante: Compensability of willful death

Almirante: Compensability of willful death
Dominador A. Almirante

ON Oct. 16, 2011, petitioners Marlow Navigation Philippines, Inc./Marlow Navigation Co., Ltd. and/or Eileen Morales employed Ricardo Ganal as an oiler aboard the vessel MV Stadt Hamburg. On Sept. 20, 2011, he commenced his employment.

Around 7 o’clock in the evening of April 15, 2012, a party was organized for the crewmen of the vessel while it was anchored at Chittagong, Bangladesh. After finishing his shift at midnight, Ganal joined the party. Around three o’clock in the following morning, the ship captain noticed that Ganal was already drunk. He directed him to return to his cabin and take a rest, which Ganal ignored.

Thus, some crew members were summoned to escort Ganal to his cabin. They attempted to accompany him back to his cabin but he refused. They then tried to restrain him but he resisted and when he found a chance to escape, he ran towards the ship’s railing and, without hesitation, jumped overboard and straight into the sea.

The crew members tried to save and search for him but to no avail. Ganal was later found dead and floating in the water. The medico-legal report showed that the cause of his death was asphyxia by drowning.

After the denial by petitioners, Ganal’s wife Gemma Boragay, for herself and in behalf of their minor children, filed with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) a complaint for among others, recovery of death benefits.

Does this claim prosper?

Ruling: No.

In the present case, it may be conceded that the death of Ganal took place in the course of his employment, in that it happened at the time and at the place where he was working. However, the accident which produced this tragic result did not arise out of such employment.

The occasion where Ganal took alcoholic beverages was a grill party organized by the ship officers of MV Stadt Hamburg. It was a social event and Ganal attended not because he was performing his duty as a seaman, but was doing an act for his own personal benefit.

Even if the Court were to adopt a liberal view and consider the grill party as incidental to Ganal’s work as a seaman, his death during such occasion may not be considered as having arisen out of his employment as it was the direct consequence of his decision to jump into the water without coercion nor compulsion from any of the ship officers or crew members.

The hazardous nature of this act was not due specially to the nature of his employment. It was a risk to which any person on board the MV Stadt Hamburg, such as a passenger thereof or an ordinary visitor, would have been exposed had he, likewise, jumped into the sea, as Ganal had.

The necessary question that follows then is whether Ganal’s act was willful. Considering his apparent intoxication, may Ganal’s death, which resulted from his act of jumping overboard, be considered as directly attributable to him?

Contrary to the findings of the CA, both the LA and the NLRC found and ruled in the affirmative.

After a careful review of the records of the case, this Court agrees with the findings and ruling of the LA and the NLRC.

The Court agrees with the LA and the NLRC that the pieces of evidence presented by petitioners, consisting of the testimony of the crew members present at the time of the unfortunate incident, as well as the accident report made by the master of the vessel, prove the willfulness of Ganal’s acts which led to his death.

The term “willful” means “voluntary and intentional”, but not necessarily malicious.

In the case of Mabuhay Shipping Services, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, 271 Phil. 142, 147 (1991), the seaman, in a state of intoxication, ran amuck and committed an unlawful aggression against another, inflicting injury on the latter, so that in his own defense the latter fought back and in the process killed the seaman. This Court held that the circumstances of the death of the seaman could be categorized as a deliberate and willful act on his own life directly attributable to him.

In the same manner, in the instant case, Ganal’s act of intentionally jumping overboard, while in a state of intoxication, could be considered as a deliberate and willful act on his own life which is directly attributable to him (Peralta, J., SC 2nd Division, Marlow Navigation Philippines, Inc., vs. Heirs of Ricardo Ganal,, G.R. No. 220168, June 07, 2017).

Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on March 24, 2018.