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Seafarer’s compensable injury while playing basketball under the ‘personal comfort doctrine’

Seafarer’s compensable injury while playing basketball under the ‘personal comfort doctrine’
ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO | December 06,2023

A seafarer is entitled total and permanent disability benefits for the injury he suffered while playing basketball on board a ship during his free time.

The Supreme Court granted the seafarer’s claims in Arguilles v. Wilhelmsen Smith Bell Manning, Inc (July 10, 2023, G.R. No. 254586) for the “high-grade Achilles tendon tear” in his left ankle using the “Personal Comfort doctrine” and the “Bunkhouse Rule”.

Under the Personal Comfort doctrine, the course of employment is not considered broken by certain acts relating to the personal comfort of the employee, as such acts are helpful to the employer in that they aid in efficient performance by the employee.

Breaks, which allow employees to administer to their personal comfort, better enable them to perform their jobs and are considered to be in furtherance of the employer’s business.

Although technically the employees are performing no services for their employer in the sense that their actions do not contribute directly to the employer’s profits, compensation is justified on the rationale that the employer receives indirect benefits in the form of better work from happy and rested employees, and on the theory that such minor deviations do not take the employees out of their employment.

The Bunkhouse Rule imposes workers’ compensation liability on an employer that requires its workers to live in employer-furnished premises, which the employer controls, maintains, and uses for its benefit.

A work-related injury under the POEA Standard Employment Contract (SEC) is an “injury arising out of and in the course of employment.” There is no requirement that a seafarer must suffer an injury while he is actually performing his duties.

Using the two doctrines, the Court ruled that the injury was sustained while he was still on board the vessel during the effectivity of his employment contract.

The seafarer was playing basketball which is an activity endorsed by the employer on the vessel. This action should not be considered reckless or intentional as it was conducted with awareness of one’s safety.

The Court stressed that the employers are liable only for such injuries arising from or growing out of the risks peculiar to the nature of work in the scope of the workmen’s employment or incidental to such employment, and accidents in which it is possible to trace the injury to some risk or hazard to which the employee is exposed in a special degree by reason of such employment.

The Court also used the “personal comfort doctrine in the earlier case of Oscares v. Magsaysay Maritime Corp. (GR 245858 December 2, 2020) wherein the seafarer suffered knee injuries when he slipped and fell out of balance while singing in front of a videoke machine.

Disability benefits were awarded using the “personal comfort” doctrine where acts of personal ministration for the comfort or convenience of the employee or necessary to his physical well-being is an incident of employment.

The seafarer’s act of singing can be considered necessary to his health and comfort while on board the vessel.

The Court noted that jumping while singing cannot be considered as a reckless or deliberate act that is unmindful of one’s safety.

There is nothing inherently dangerous about jumping while singing. The company did not allege that the seafarer intentionally injured himself or was negligent. He simply lost his balance.

While inside the vessel for several months, a seafarer is exposed to extreme weather conditions and rough seas as well as physical and psychological stress due to his job, lack of sleep, heat stress, emergency works and homesickness for being away from his family.

These can have potentially disastrous consequences in terms of reduced performance as well as poor physical and mental health. Recreation is an important consideration for the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 (MLC2006).

Each member state shall ensure that ships that fly its flag provide and maintain decent recreational facilities, amenities and services, as adapted to meet the special needs of seafarers who must live and work on ships, consistent with promoting the seafarers’ health and well-being.