Toilet prank hurt firefighter’s privates — ‘Part of job,’ NJ court says
Put out fires ... ✔
Rescue kittens from trees ... ✔
Hide explosive in coworker's toilet ... also ✔
A firefighter in Linden had his genitals burned by an exploding toilet seat prank. But according to state law, it's all part of the job description, an appellate court panel ruled this month.
Raymond Johns was on duty and at the firehouse in November 2015 when he sat on a toilet and heard and felt an explosion. He then noticed blood gushing into a blood blister on his scrotum. He went to the hospital and was treated for a second-degree burn and bruising. He returned to work a month later without having missed any pay.
The explosion was from a bang-snap firework that Linden firefighters apparently liked to leave around the firehouse.
Johns sued Thomas Wengerter, the firefighter who had apologized to him for leaving the bang-snap, although Wengerter later denied that he had left one on the toilet.
Wengerter in turn sued the city for allowing “a high degree of pranking among on-duty firefighters" and argued that the state Workers' Compensation law prevented Johns from suing him.
A Superior Court judge in December 2017 dismissed the lawsuits — a decision that a three-judge panel upheld this month.
The decision notes that the Workers' Compensation Act prevents injury lawsuits between coworkers when both were acting within the scope of their employment.
While setting toilet-seat bombs might not seem like something that would be in a firefighter’s daily duties, the law makes an allowance for “horseplay and skylarking," meaning that if a worker is injured by a prank on the job, that injury is considered having taken place “in the course of the employment” and the injured worker is allowed to collect benefits. This means Johns can't sue, the judges said.
“The record established that Wengerter was accustomed to playing what he perceived to be harmless pranks on his coworkers while they were in the firehouse between assignments," the appellate decision says. "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 unfortunate and unintended result in this instance."
The decision also says that there was no suggestion that Wengerter intended to harm Johns and that there was evidence that bang-snaps had previously been used in the firehouse without injury.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email email@example.com.