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NJ: Don't Sue for Exploding Toilet Pranks - It's Covered by Workers' Comp

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 05, 2019

The Garden State is a special kind of place. This week the rest of the country learned that New Jersey law says that injuries caused by a co-worker's prank are covered under the state's workers' compensation plan.

So, if a bang snap placed under a toilet seat by one of your co-workers blows up and causes second-degree burns to your scrotum and a contusion to your left testicle, don't come to the courts for relief.

Going Out With a Bang

It's hard to improve on the Bridgewater Courier News's description of the underlying facts:

Raymond Johns, 48, was on duty at the firehouse on Nov. 27, 2015, when he sat down on a toilet and heard and felt an explosion beneath him, according to court papers.
He then examined himself for injury and discovered a "significant" amount of blood coming from the left side of his scrotum, on which a blood blister had formed.
The remnants of an exploded bang snap, a small firework without a fuse that detonates when compressed, was then discovered on the toilet.

The prank certainly didn't seem funny for Johns. But it could've been for fellow Linden firefighter Thomas Wengerter, who admitted to finding a bag of "snap poppers" just outside the firehouse, described (without conceding that it was him) that the snaps were placed throughout the fire station, and ultimately served a seven-day suspension over the incident.

"This is something that has been done in the past to lighten the mood and help guys have some fun with each other," Wengerter wrote in a department memo while maintaining his innocence. "I am truly sorry that someone may have been injured as a result of this type of horseplay. This incident has made me realize how lucky we have been in the past with jokes we play on each other and how we must avoid this behavior in the future."

A (Bang) Snap Judgment

But Johns wasn't taking "sorry" for an answer. He sued the city and Wengerter, even though he didn't miss any work income and Linden paid all his medical bills. Wengerter filed his own suit pointing the finger at the city because it allowed a "high degree of pranking among on-duty firefighters."

Union County Superior Court Judge James Wilson wasn't hearing any of it. Wilson dismissed Johns's suit, finding that his claim was precluded by the state's workers' compensation statute, and, in any case, Wengerter's conduct was not an "intentional wrong." And a state appellate court agreed:

"Johns produced no evidence that Wengerter's placement of the bang snap on the toilet was anything other than an ill-conceived prank ... The placement of a bang snap on a men's room toilet falls within the realm of coworker horseplay intended to startle, but not injure, a coworker despite the unintended result."

It's a good lesson to all Jerseyites: If a coworker literally busts your balls, your only relief is workers' comp. And a bag of ice.

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