March 30, 2010
A Contract to Share
A few weeks ago, Professors Douglas Kysar (below right) and Jon Hanson (below left) delivered the Monsanto Lecture at the Valparaiso University School of Law, "Abnormally Dangerous: Inequality Dissonance and the Making of Tort Law." As the subject was torts, I didn't really follow much of it. However, they did have a PowerPoint presentation with an embedded movie about two monkeys, Vulcan and Virgil. You can watch the movie:
SPOILER ALERT: the movie is about monkeys that have to cooperate to get at some nuts. One monkey shares a tool with another monkey in a separate enclosure. The question was whether the monkey that used the tool to get the nuts would share them with his companion. Professors Kysar and Hanson cleverly stopped the movie halfway through, and we all groaned. We wanted to know if the monkeys would share. They did share!! Three nuts each; a perfect 50/50 split. We were all so happy and relieved. Tears flowed, professors and students gave each other high fives and then we all joined in a chorus of kumbaya, with four-part harmony.
Why do we want the monkeys to share and why do we humans so often find reasons not to do so? Professors Kysar and Hanson know the answers, but you will have to read their paper when it appears in the Valparaiso Law Review to find out. In the meantime, here's a case in point. As reported here on Boston.com, two sisters are fighting over whether or not one sister must share her $500,000 in lottery winnings with the other.
Theresa Sokaitis, who is 84, and Rose Bakaysa, who is 87, seem to have developed a habit of small-stakes gambling. The two sisters always split their winnings 50-50. Fifteen years ago, after they won $165,000 at a casino, they formalized their arrangement in a notarized, executed written agreement to that effect. The crucial language is as follows:
We are partners in any winning we shall receive. (Such as slot machines, cards, at Foxwoods Casino, and tickets, etc.).’
One year later, the sisters feuded. Ms. Sokaitis renounced the partnership and Ms. Bakaysa said that was fine with her. Ms. Bakaysa, the lottery winner, tore up the contract and informed her sister that she wouldn't get a dime. The two are now squaring off in the New Britain Superior Court in Connecticut. One lawyer involved in the case commented, "It's a real sad story on every level."
Indeed. Why can't we be more like monkeys?
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