Horseplay at Work: No Joke About It
What’s a little prank among co-workers? No doubt you’ve heard the expression that “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” In the meantime, when it comes to horseplay at work that results in injuries, there’s really no joke about it.
First, what is horseplay? Some consider it an activity that essentially involves fooling around or pulling practical jokes. For the most part, it’s generally intended as a harmless play to grab attention and initiate a few laughs. You could find yourself accused of horseplay at work if you exchange a few mock punches with a work buddy. And, you could face the same issues if you’re hurt while attempting to break up what you thought was a real fight on the job.
- The problem comes if you are the one injured. Obviously, you’ll have concerns about medical treatment and reimbursement for lost wages. It’s natural for you to expect workers’ compensation benefits if you’re hurt while on-the-job.
You could be in for a rude awakening. When the workers’ compensation carrier investigates your claim, they’ll be looking for the role you played as far as the horseplay. If they find proof that you instigated or participated in some kind of foolery, your claim could be denied.
In the alternative, there’s always the possibility that you were a victim of someone else’s prank gone bad and were not involved at all. As long as that’s the case, NJSA 34:15-7 provides the law that considers your injuries work-related and thus, compensable.
Pursuing a Negligence Claim for Horseplay
Meanwhile, you might be livid and ready to pursue a claim against the co-worker who caused your injuries. You should know that these types of legal actions are difficult. In fact, a recent New Jersey Appellate Division recently considered this issue.
- The court decided on the legal opinion of Johns v. Wengerter on April 1, 2019. The decision only applies to the named parties.
Both defendants are paid firefighters in an urban fire department in Union County. As Raymond Johns sat down on the toilet, he felt something explode. At the same time, Johns felt pain and looked down. Johns noticed a great deal of blood coming from his scrotum. A blood blister had already started to form. As he looked to see what exploded, Johns came across the leftovers of an exploded bang snap. Apparently, the fuse went off when Johns sat on the toilet.
- As a result of the accident, Johns lost some time from work. The City covered his medical bills and compensated him for his full salary. Johns did not pursue a workers’ compensation claim for any portion of permanent disability benefits.
Investigating the Accident
The Fire Department initiated an investigation and determined that another firefighter, Thomas Wengerter placed the small bang snap around the firehouse. Actually, Werngerter admitted putting the explosives in different locations. However, he denied that he placed one on the toilet seat.
Werngerter submitted that he did not intend to harm anyone and was merely pulling a prank. He suggested that it was common in the firehouse to do things in a joking manner. The Fire Department suspended Werngerter for his actions.
In the meantime, Johns decided to file a lawsuit against Werngerter to seek recovery. Once named in the lawsuit, Werngerter’s legal counsel brought in the City. According to Werngerter, the City knew firefighters pranked one another while on duty. They did nothing to stop it.
The case concluded with a finding that Johns could not pursue a damages claim against Werngerter or the City. Under the law, there are very limited circumstances when you can sue a co-employee or employer. There was no proof that Werngerter or the City intentionally harmed Johns.
If you suffer a work injury, you should know your rights. With more than thirty years of handling personal injury cases, the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone provides you with experienced representation. Contact us at 201-829-3805 to schedule an appointment.