Can I refuse surgery and treat my injury conservatively, if I choose?
Yes, but this decision comes with some risk. Section 306 (f.1)(8) of the Pa WC Act says that if an injured worker refuses reasonable medical treatment, the worker forfeits all rights to compensation for any injury or, any increase in the worker’s disability which results from the refusal. The Act allows the Employer to file a Suspension Petition (or, a Muse Petition as it is often times referred to because of the seminal case of Muse v. WCAB (Western Electric Co.), 522 A.2d 533 (Pa. 1987) which established the burden of proof in these cases) seeking to stop or suspend compensation until the injured worker undergoes the treatment at issue. The burden is on the Employer when a Suspension/Muse Petition is filed for refusal to undergo reasonable medical treatment to prove that the treatment would have decreased the worker’s disability and, increased their earning power before a forfeiture or suspension of wage loss benefits will be ordered. Specifically, when determining whether treatment is “reasonable” for purposes of a Suspension/Muse Petition, the Employer must show that the recommended treatment has a high probability of success and, that there are minimal risks involved with the treatment. In other words, if the Employer can show that the treatment being refused has minimal risk but that it will likely make the injured worker more employable, a forfeiture or suspension of wage loss benefits will be granted. We usually see these petitions in the context of surgery though they apply to any treatment that fits within the Muse requirements. Typically, the IME doctor recommends that the injured worker undergo surgery as opposed to continuing with conservative care, and the worker has some reservation about having surgery. The injured worker will need to present medical evidence as to why their refusal to undergo surgery is reasonable in order to combat a Suspension/Muse Petition. The risker the procedure (e.g., back surgery) and a less than 50% probability of making the worker more employable will likely defeat any petition to force the worker to undergo a specific form of treatment.