Assume that every week, for years, you and several co-workers pitch in money to buy lottery tickets with an oral agreement to split any winnings – and then one week your ticket wins BIG, as in millions of dollars, but some of your lottery-buying colleagues were absent the day you pitched in for the actual winning ticket.
Would you split the winnings with the absent workers, those who normally contribute to purchase the tickets but who did not on that particular day?
Such is the real-life scenario faced by employees of the city of Piqua, Ohio. According to news stories, 14 city employees have claimed a $207 Mega Millions jackpot based on a ticket sold on December 12, 2008. After taxes, the winners each will receive a one-time payment of approximately $6.3 million (versus the option of a larger payout spread out over 20 years).
The 14 winners have declined to share the winnings with four city workers who usually play along but were out of the office the day the winning ticket was bought. Now the four workers are suing their 14 co-workers, claiming the winners didn’t keep their word about sharing any winnings with all regular players. The four residents want $41 million of the $207 million pot, claiming breach of contract and conversion. The four also want punitive damages and attorney fees. Including the four would reduce each of the 14 winners’ shares down to about $5 million.
I’m not an attorney, but I assume the four don’t have a strong legal case. There was no written contract. The four did not pay directly for the winning ticket or physically purchase it. Also, apparently not every worker contributed to every drawing every time over the years.
Regardless of the legal outcome, I think the right thing to do is to share the winnings with the four absent workers. After all, there was an oral agreement to split the winnings, and if the four workers indeed played regularly for five years — as has been claimed — it’s clear they were part of the team. It’s important to note, too, that the four say they joined with the others in a pool for a December 9 lottery drawing from which some cash winnings allegedly were then used to purchase the December 12 winning ticket.
Some friends of mine say I’m crazy. They say they wouldn’t split the money because the four did not contribute directly to purchase the winning ticket.
I just think I’d sleep better at night if I shared the winnings with my co-workers.
What would you do?
(This post also found on the Chicago Sun Times website.)