The perfect lawsuit: “Smile, pal, ya still got $18M!”

Oh, I love this lawsuit. Everything about it exemplifies the reasons for and the very nature of lawsuits.

You’ve read about, I’m sure. (Here are the Daily News and NYT links.) The short story: In 2007, six New Jersey friends and co-workers, hardhats, started pooling their money to buy and share lottery tickets. When one ticket hit the jackpot in 2009, the man responsible for buying the ticket cashed it in, $38.5 million, for himself.

He didn’t even tell his friends for a while. His ex-friends, actually, because when they learned about his deceit, they sued him.

Here’s why I’m calling it perfection:

  • There is an injustice, a clear wrong was done.
  • The injustice was especially painful and shocking, involving a betrayal of trust and friendship among a culturally bound group: the men are all Portuguese Americans.
  • From the beginning, there was an established monetary figure involved — a big enough figure to make the decision to sue inevitable and emotionally uncomplicated. Although money is usually only a rough substitute for justice, in this case justice could be delivered nicely sanded and ready for painting.
  • The clear injustice (and of course the potential monies) would attract good legal representation on what I’m pretty sure was a contingency basis.
  • It wasn’t just one person’s word against another’s. It was five against one. The five could give each other support, reassurance.
  • And the plaintiffs, like most of us, were apparently just working people who weren’t particularly sophisticated about the legal system and had not compiled any written record, any documentation for their case. Why would they have? They never suspected their friend would cheat them.
  • The case was heard before the fourth branch of government, a jury who did not believe the defendant’s claim that the ticket belonged only to him.
  • Each of the men will receive $4 million gross.
  • The lawyers will be paid.
  • There are tax consequences for tax lawyers and accountants to figure out. So they too will make money, as will the government. Which will perhaps reimburse the justice system for the costs of the trial.

Everyone has won. Including the defendant (he still has $18 million, less lawyers’ fees and taxes), although he doesn’t see it that way. “They robbed me,” he said in Portuguese, as he left the courthouse.

His worst loss? His five friends whom he tried to cheat.

It’s all in there: injustice, betrayal, the strength of the legal system, justice as symbolized by money. And vengeance.





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