When a Linden firefighter sat down on a toilet seat at a city firehouse in November 2015, he “heard and felt an explosion beneath him” from a workplace prank gone awry, according to court documents.
Raymond Johns discovered he was bleeding from the left side of his scrotum and a blood blister had formed. He also found the remnants of an exploded bang snap – small paper-wrapped novelty explosives that pop when they are compressed or thrown – on the toilet.
Fellow firefighter Thomas Wengerter admitted placing snaps around the firehouse as a prank and apologized immediately after the incident, according to an appeals court decision released Monday. But Wengerter later denied he was the one who placed a snap on the toilet.
Johns sued Wengerter for injuries he suffered, but his complaint was dismissed. An appellate panel upheld that decision on Monday.
Johns was diagnosed with a second-degree burn on his scrotum and a contusion of the left testicle and was placed off-duty for nearly two weeks after the stunt. He lost no pay and the city paid his medical expenses, according to court documents.
Wengerter was suspended.
Johns sued Wengerter in March 2016, seeking damages for his injuries. Wengerter then filed a complaint against the city, claiming the town was responsible for any damages that might be awarded against him “because (Linden) allowed a high degree of pranking among on-duty firefighters.”
A trial judge ruled in 2017 that Johns couldn’t sue his fellow firefighter over the incident because the injury was covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The act covers workplace injuries and prohibits lawsuits in case of an injury caused by “horseplay or skylarking on the part of a fellow employee” when there is no indication of “intentional wrong.”
Wengerter had no grudge against Johns and didn’t intend to harm him, the judge determined.
Johns disputed the judge’s findings and appealed.
“There is no suggestion on the record that Wengerter was aware that the particular circumstances of the prank that injured Johns was substantially certain to result in a physical injury,” the appellate judges determined. “Nor is there a suggestion in the record that Wengerter intentionally set out to harm Johns or anyone else with his ill-advised plan to play pranks while he was at work.”
The judges agreed that the incident was covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act.