An Arkansas woman who cashed a $1 million lottery ticket after fishing it out of the trash may have to give up the winnings to the woman who threw away the ticket in the first place, according to a judge's ruling.
Years ago, Sharon Jones quit her job washing dishes at a cafe in nearby Searcy, Arkansas to take care of her father-in-law as he was dying from a lung disease. So, to make money, she often collected discarded lottery tickets because they can sometimes qualify for secondary prizes.
In July, when she dug a partially-scratched "Diamond Dazzler" lottery ticket out of the trash at the Super 1 Stop convenience store in Beebe, about 35 miles northeast of Little Rock, Jones' whole life changed, KARK 4 News reported.
The Associated Press says the $1 million prize ($680,000 after taxes) let her pay off debts, give thousands of dollars to her children, buy a gleaming new pickup truck, and give $4,500 to a relative who has a child with Down syndrome.
But now Jones may have to pay it all back, after a judge ruled Tuesday that the money belongs to another woman, Sharon Duncan, who says she threw the ticket away after a lottery machine scanner told her, "Sorry, not a winner."
Ooh, I want to un-abandon it.
Jones' attorney, James Simpson, argued that people shouldn't be allowed to throw items away and then say, "'ooh, I want to un-abandon it.'"
"We'd have garage-sale law all over the place," he said. "It became trash when someone threw it away."
"And then the next thing, you know, 10 months later, you're fighting for something that was trash," Sharon's husband, William said.
She simply made a mistake
Duncan's attorney, James "Red" Morgan, argued that she simply made a mistake by throwing away a $1 million ticket and that the only right she willingly parted with was to enter the ticket for the possibility of a secondary prize.
According to the Searcy Daily Citizen, after a full day of testimony, Judge Thomas Hughes agreed and ordered that the money be handed over.
He ruled that Duncan never abandoned her right to claim the winnings.
"The $1 million was never found money," the judge said Tuesday, the AP reported.
Jones' husband, William, who was laid off last year after working in construction, asked a question that many others following this case have asked.
"Why does she have the right to come back after she's already thrown it away and say, 'Oh no. Now that it is a winner, I want the money?'"
Jones' attorney, James Simpson, says they will appeal the decision.