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Most April Fools’ Day pranksters will find a funny and harmless way to dupe a friend or coworker into thinking that something is true when it is not. Others will swap out sugar for salt or cover a computer monitor in sticky notes. It’s important to remember that just because a person is just joking doesn’t mean they won’t be responsible for any damage they cause. Any prank that involves behavior that would be illegal any other day is also illegal on April Fools’ Day. 

April Fools’ Day pranks that cause actual harm or financial losses to the victim can lead to serious legal consequences. Here are some of the most well-known April Fools’ Day pranks that led to serious legal trouble.

Free Hummer H2s are too good to be true

A radio station in California offered listeners a chance to win a new “Hummer” through a week-long prank involving listeners guessing how many miles two H2 Hummers drove throughout the week. On April 1, two winning contestants arrived at the station only to find the prize was a radio-controlled toy Hummer. One of the victims of the prank sued the radio station for $60,000, the cost of a new Hummer H2 at the time, claiming that the station violated Federal law.

Toyota or toy Yoda?

The Hummer prank came on the heels of another costly case that involved another vehicle-based prank. A popular Florida restaurant manager told waitresses at the restaurant that they would be entered in a statewide raffle to win a Toyota for selling the most beer in March. One waitress at the location was told she had won the contest only to find that her prize was a toy “Yoda” doll. Instead of a new car, truck, or van, the winner was given a small, green action figure from the Star Wars movies. She sued, alleging a breach of contract. The case was settled out of court, with her attorney telling the media that she could now afford any Toyota she wanted.

Fake work emergency, real health scare

Some pranks can result in physical harm to the victim, even when that was not the intention of the prank. An Ontario, London City Hall employee was called on April Fools’ Day while on vacation and told that a project needed to be completed immediately. The man suffered a heart condition due to the stress and had to be hospitalized. During recovery, the victim determined he could not return to work and retired early. He filed suit against London City Hall for damages and lost income.

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg of pranks resulting in legal trouble. There are examples of pranks that caused police, fire, and EMS responses for no reason, cases in which the public was duped into mass hysteria, and even a handful of pranks that caused the deployment of military units. Thousands of other pranks result in burns, fractured bones, concussions, and sprains, while many April Fools’ Day pranks at work result in employees being terminated or disciplined for their antics. 

How can I avoid being the victim of an April Fools’ Day Prank gone wrong?

Either join in on the fun, or hide. Seriously, just don’t get out of bed on April Fools’ Day. Close the blinds and read a book. Don’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or check social media. They can’t be trusted. Even the BBC and NPR have pranked people. If you have to go outside, try wearing a shirt or hat that says “I’m Not Interested in April Fools’ Day Pranks.” It might help, and it won’t hurt. If you win a raffle or a contest and the prize is on April Fools’ Day, don’t get your hopes up. It’s probably a hoax.

Joking aside, do your best to stay alert and remember those old sayings your parents told you as a kid, especially: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn't true.” If you work or live with one or more pranksters, you may want to consider having a conversation with them ahead of April Fools’ Day to let them know you are not up for pranks.

What are my rights if I get pranked?

Most pranks are harmless and do not merit calling the police or filing a lawsuit. Pranks can be embarrassing, even rude, but, depending on the circumstances, they may be perfectly legal. Victims of pranks that cross the line and lead to financial or physical harm, however, do have legal avenues they can pursue. It can be complicated to figure out when a prank crosses that line, and talking to a lawyer can help victims understand their rights and options.

One of the most common ways that pranks go wrong is when the prank physically or financially harms an individual. A lawyer can help victims of pranks that caused injuries, damage to homes or vehicles, or resulted in the victim losing money. If the damages or financial losses are minor, the small claims process may be a viable option, but it may be worth checking with a lawyer first if you are considering this option. Often, these cases are settled out of court using a Settlement and Release Agreement that dictates the settlement terms, which can include keeping a case's outcome private.

Injuries, losses, and damages caused by a prank can also be reported to the police for investigation. If police determine that a law was broken, the prankster could face criminal charges. 

Each of the examples above ended up in the courts because the pranks were poorly thought out and caused harm to the victim in physical or financial ways. Pranksters should pay close attention to the intended and unintended consequences of pranks that might cause harm. It is a good idea for everyone to be especially vigilant on April Fools’ Day to avoid being duped.

If you have more questions about your rights after being pranked, or if you are planning a prank you think may cross the line into legal trouble, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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