Tom was a regular at the diner in town. For twenty years, Tom would have his usual breakfast of two eggs over easy with bacon and orange juice served by his favorite waitress Maggie. Tom was a creature of habit and, after he would have his breakfast, he would go over to the local variety store and buy a $2.00 lottery ticket. In the past five or six years, it had become a custom that Maggie would give Tom a dollar and they would share a ticket with the promise that if either person won they would split the proceeds.
On some rare occasions, when Maggie would forget to give Tom the dollar, Maggie would reimburse Tom the next day. As fate would have it, Maggie was off on Friday, August the 12th, but Tom went and bought a ticket anyway. Sure enough, lightening struck and as Tom watched the winning numbers displayed on his television that night, he found out that he had a winning ticket. Tom was an instant millionaire and the news spread fast. Within twenty minutes, Maggie was on the phone congratulating Tom and offering to drive Tom down to Harrisburg to claim the prize money the following Monday morning.
Tom felt differently though. Tom felt that he had paid for the ticket with only his own money and therefore all the proceeds were his. Tom felt Maggie had no right to any of the proceeds.
QUESTION: Would Maggie be successful in getting 50% of the proceeds from the winning ticket?
ANSWER: The Court would consider the background of the case. They would be impressed by the fact that for at least five years, in exchange for a mutual promise of splitting the prize money, Tom and Maggie would each chip in one dollar towards the two dollar ticket. Even when one of them missed the prepayment, the other would get reimbursed without question.
Given this set of circumstances and based upon the pattern that had been established, the court would likely award 50% of the prize money to Maggie.
Disclaimer: The above article is for instructive purposes only and each case is fact sensitive. Consultation with an attorney should be obtained instead of reliance upon the legal issues discussed in this column.