Court Rules Woman Who Didn’t Enter Lottery Not Entitled to Damages For Not Winning

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Lotto The submitter calls this an early contender for Bad Legal Argument of the Year, and I think he’s absolutely right.  On Wednesday, a court in Amsterdam rejected Helene de Gier’s claim for emotional-distress damages based on the trauma she said she suffered when she didn’t win the country’s National Postcode Lottery.

Part of the problem with her claim was that she did not enter the country’s National Postcode Lottery.

Her neighbors did, and they won.  Specifically, seven people on her street won almost 14 million euros each in the lottery, in which postal codes are chosen at random and people in that zone can win (if they enter).  De Gier eventually sued, alleging, among other things, that:

  • the lottery was an invasion of privacy, because the media descended on her postal zone, which she could not escape;
  • the lottery used advertisements that amount to "emotional blackmail," because they emphasize the regret one will feel if one’s neighbors win but one does not because one did not enter; and
  • plaintiff suffered emotional distress of that very type when her neighbors won, and proceeded to "rub in" their victory — de Gier alleged that one winner "ostentatiously" displayed his new Porsche on the street in full view of de Gier, a not-winner.

De Gier said she became obsessed with the loss and could not escape it, partly because she was Lottery reminded of it every time she had to write her postal code on a piece of mail.  Yet the nation continued to hold its lottery, heedless of the trauma that plaintiff suffered thereby.  She told a Dutch television program that each new lottery draw felt "like a noose around my neck being tightened."

The judges added to de Gier’s trauma this week by denying her claim.  (The article says that she filed suit "together with her husband," but reports consistently describe the claim as belonging to her alone.  Maybe he has suffered "loss of consortium" due to his wife’s trauma.)  The judges basically pointed out that de Gier’s claim would essentially render games of chance illegal because anyone who didn’t enter a game of any kind could, after learning the ultimate result, then sue for the trauma of knowing that if they had only bet on that result, they would have won.  In other words, everybody would have a cause of action for hindsight.  As the judges put it, sometimes "things happen that have unpleasant consequences for someone, but that doesn’t automatically mean the one causing them can be held liable."  This will come as news to many plaintiffs, especially in California, I think.

The National Postcode Lottery itself immediately began to rub it in.  Saying the ruling was "clear as a bell," it expressed the hope that de Gier would "come to appreciate the positive aspects" of the lottery.  Since the odds of her winning in the future are so tiny, I guess that translates to "maybe your neighbor will give you a ride in his new Porsche."  Thus doth the noose continue to tighten.

Link: International Herald Tribune