It’s become a fairly common workplace ritual: A group of co-workers routinely chip in a few dollars to play the lottery, hoping to increase their jackpot chances with the understanding that they’ll divide any winnings evenly across the board. At least that’s supposed to be the understanding. What would you do if one of your co-workers decided to collect without telling anyone else?
That was the case with a group of construction workers in Rahway, New Jersey, who later found themselves embroiled in a breach-of-contract lawsuit. Since at least 2007, the six men regularly bought Mega Millions lottery tickets when the jackpot went over $50 million. One of the men was in charge of collecting $2 from each worker and buying the tickets. In November 2009, one of 12 tickets he bought from a convenience store was a winner. Two separate tickets won the jackpot, which totaled $48 million in cash or $77 million annualized.
But instead of sharing the good news, the worker said nothing at work the next day. A short time later he claimed half the jackpot winnings in a lump sum of $24 million. A few months after that, he resigned from the construction company, explaining he’d won the lottery.
Word got around and the workers decided to sue. They obtained an injunction freezing the winnings, and won a partial summary judgment that set damages at more than $20 million if they could find him liable.
The man’s defense was that he’d bought the winning ticket apart from the co-worker pool and denied he’d gotten money from the other men the week he bought the tickets. His attorney said the man had bought tickets for himself twice a week in addition to the work pool, and that he hadn’t said anything about the win “not because he stole the money, but because he’s a private person.” Nevertheless, the eight jurors unanimously found the man liable for breach of contract and fraud, and awarded his co-workers the $20 million.
The workers in this lottery pool never formalized their agreement by making copies of the tickets or writing up a contract. Like a lot of co-workers, they trusted each other to be honest in the event they struck it rich. Even if you don’t think your workmates have it in them to lie about your own lottery pool, it might not hurt to add one or two legal formalities to your weekly ritual.
Source: New Jersey Law Journal, “Jury Awards ‘Lottery Pool’ Members Equal Shares in $24 Million Jackpot,” March 14, 2012