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Pranking On The Job

April 19, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href=""><em>Johns v. Wengerter</em></a>, the New Jersey Superior Court addressed a prank gone wrong.  Plaintiff worked as a firefighter for the City of Linden.  He was injured by a firework that was placed in a firehouse toilet by his co-worker.  Plaintiff was treated at the hospital for a burn and a contusion and was placed off duty.  After two weeks, plaintiff returned to work.  He never lost wages and he never filed a workers compensation claim.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Instead, plaintiff filed a civil suit for damages against his co-worker.  The co-worker in turn impleaded the City alleging that it allowed pervasive pranking at the fire department.  The trial court dismissed all claims against both defendants, holding that the claims were barred by the exclusivity provision of the Workers Compensation Act.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In New Jersey, an injured employee has one exclusive remedy which is to file a workers compensation claim with the employer’s workers compensation insurance carrier.  There are, however, exceptions to the rule.  For example, an employer engaged in grossly negligent or intentional wrongdoing can be sued despite the exclusivity provision.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Johns argued just that.  He claimed defendants could be sued because they were grossly negligent or engaged in intentional wrongdoing.  The Appellate Division, on appeal, agreed with the trial court’s decision that the accident occurred as the result “horseplay or skylarking,” and that a prank fell within the definition of same.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Employers in New Jersey can rest easy knowing that an employee’s prank gone awry likely will not subject them to a civil tort lawsuit.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Mike Noblett for his contribution to this post. Please email <a href="">Colleen Hayes</a> with any questions.</p>


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