Compensable death
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2018 - 12:00am

When an employee suffers injury or death from any accident arising out of and in the course of employment, his/her employer shall pay compensation for such injury or death. But compensation shall not be allowed for injuries caused by the voluntary intent of the employee to inflict the injury upon himself or another person; by drunkenness on the part of the employee who had the accident; or by notorious negligence of the employee (Sections 2 and 4, Workmen’s Compensation Act). If the death is caused by the suicide of the employee after he is injured in the course of his employment, is the employer liable for death compensation? This is the issue in this case of Lando.

Lando was working at a cement factory as a pre-heater operator for almost two years when his helmeted head was caught by the drive V belts of the kiln which dragged his whole body and smashed him against the wheel. He sustained injuries in the head, neck and body and was brought to a hospital and confined for two months. The attending doctor at the hospital and the company doctor reported his injuries as “extensive avulsion with laceration of tissues in the scalp and neck, and severe cerebral concussion”

A week after he was released from the hospital he committed suicide by hanging himself. Based on his death certificate, he died of “asphyxia due to strangulation suicidal.” So Joyce, his surviving widow, filed a notice and claim for death compensation with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Region 4, Workmen’s Compensation Section. Joyce argues that there was no voluntary intent on his part to kill himself because at the time he committed suicide, he was out of his mind due to insanity caused by the cranial injuries in the accident inside the plant. After the parties submitted simultaneous affidavits, the acting referee dismissed the case on the ground that suicide is not compensable. This ruling was affirmed by the DOLE

So Joyce filed a Petition for Review of the DOLE ruling before the Supreme Court (SC) reiterating her arguments. She also submitted the report of the chief of the cancer section of another hospital declaring that the damage to the brain of Lando resulting to atrophy was so great resulting in mental deterioration coming on and off and the suicide has been done in the moment of mental loss or when he was out of his mind due to the brain injury he suffered from the company machine belt, so the death is work connected.

And the SC ruled in favor of Joyce by setting aside the order of the acting referee and the DOLE and directing the cement factory to pay the death compensation to Joyce. In determining the compensability of an injury or illness, the SC said that substantial evidence, not preponderance of evidence, is enough. The severe cerebral concussion, the lacerated scalp and the other injuries suffered when the worker’s head hit the wheel with such force, such that, his body, caught in the drive belts, was ejected therefrom, are compatible and logically related to the resulting insanity which followed closely thereafter. Insanity is a disease reasonably attributable to the nature of the injuries sustained by the worker. Even if the physician who submitted the medical history of Lando never had a hand in his medical history and was not presented in the hearing of the case, his report can still be considered because Joyce never had a chance to present her evidence establishing the medical link between the insanity and the death of Lando. In fact the acting referee ony required the parties to submit affidavits and even the DOLE did not allow Joyce to present additional evidence. In workmen’s compensation cases, it is not the admissibility but the efficacy of the evidence which must prevail. So the admission of incompetent evidence is not a ground for denying the award. Besides, under the Social Justice provision of the Constitution and the liberal interpretation of the Workmen’ Compensation Act, the rule to be followed is that where the injuries precipitate the mental derangement, which in turn causes the suicide, the death is compensable (Galceran vs. Secretary of Labor and Hi Cement Corporation, G.R. L-47953, July 20, 1982)

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