Verbal Agreements

Perhaps there are so many lawsuits over lottery winnings because no one really expects to win

By Kellyn Brown

I missed out on buying a Montana Millionaire ticket this year. Touted as “Montana’s best chance to win a million dollars,” the number of available tickets is capped at 135,000 and has sold out each of the last three years.

On the rare occasion I do buy a lottery ticket, knowing the odds are heavily stacked against me, I still openly talk about what I would do with the money and tell people that, of course, I would float them a few dollars if I won. Once, at our office, we pooled money to buy tickets for a big Powerball jackpot, verbally agreeing to divvy up the winnings. We didn’t win. But what if we did? Would these verbal agreements hold up in court? That must be decided after the latest Montana Millionaire winner was sued by someone who said the pair had agreed to split the pot.

In a lawsuit filed in Lewis and Clark County, Michael Hess says million-dollar winner Jeff Fallang told Hess that if he won he would divide the money. Hess asked for a restraining order preventing Fallang from spending half of his winnings. Hess also has two witnesses who confirm the following events:

On Dec. 23, Fallang was working at the Town Pump in East Helena when Hess arrived at the store to inquire about how many Montana Millionaire tickets were sold. Hess then purchased a ticket and told Fallang he would split the cash if he won. Fallang, according to court records, asked Hess to buy him a ticket because he couldn’t purchase one while on shift. Hess agreed as long as if he won he agreed to split the pot in half.

Well, Fallang won the jackpot. And, according to Hess, “I contacted (Fallang) to get my agreed half. He refused to respond to my request.”

These types of disagreements are not uncommon.

In 2008 in Florida Howard Browning sued his live-in girlfriend Lynn Anne Poirier, who won $1 million playing the lottery. He claimed the two had a verbal agreement to split the winnings if either of them hit the jackpot. Apparently, Poirier disagreed and, according to a lawsuit filed at the time, she then vanished for six weeks. I assume this put a wrench in the couple’s relationship.

In 2013, a winning scratch ticket in Pennsylvania pitted Ira Sharp against his half-brother, Charles Thomas Meehan. In that case the two men were playing the lottery at a sports bar and had agreed to “split the money” when Meehan scratched off a winner. The two men made plans to meet the next morning and cash the ticket together at the Pennsylvania Lottery Commission, but when Meehan called Sharp, he didn’t answer and when he arrived at his brother’s, he wasn’t there.

When Meehan did finally reach out to Sharp, he told him that he had cashed the ticket by himself. A jury eventually decided the brothers had to split the winnings, but the family bond surely fell apart.

There have also been a rash of lawsuits filed among coworkers who pool money to buy lottery tickets. Sometimes the winner claims they were the sole purchaser of the winner. Other times, a colleague who wasn’t involved in the pool thinks they still deserve a cut of the money.

Attorneys maintain that oral contracts are legally binding, but they’re often difficult to prove. Working in Hess’ favor in his dispute over the Montana Millionaire ticket are the two witnesses who back up his story.

Perhaps there are so many lawsuits over lottery winnings because no one really expects to win. It’s much easier to promise people money you don’t already have. After reading this latest lawsuit, I promise if I win the lottery to not share the money with anyone.

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