What to Do With Lawsuit Money (Part 1): Pass it On

As of my last self-assessment, I’m a genuinely friendly person who looks for the best in people. However, sometimes horrific acts and senseless events make their way into our lives.

During such times, we may realize we can never truly understand why some people do what they do…. Or why some big companies do what they do.

Don't mess with the family pet.

Suing People Stinks

Let me put this out there; I do not believe in suing people.  When I say “believe,” I mean like the way some people “believe” in magic.  

I think we live in a sue-heavy culture.  I don’t find it respectable.  I have to carry very expensive insurance as a teacher just in case I do some paperwork wrong.  I find the whole “suing people thing” to be out of hand for a variety of reasons.

And I certainly don’t think it should be an “easy out” if you are seeking money.

Money For Nothing 

Despite my above beliefs, I’m about to redeem a 30-year savings bond that has made over $1,300 in interest.  

I received this money because of a disgusting and terrible incident that happened to my family when I was two years old.

Good Money Move Number One

My parents were literally broke in the late 1980s.  We received free cheese, free eggs, and I remember other programs like that assisting us (although my dad acts too proud to admit these things now).  

Even with their financial limitations, instead of buying some dumb expensive TV in 1989 with their lawsuit money ($1,500), my parents were gracious enough to split the money three ways for each of their three children.  The decision to invest their unexpected windfall in savings bonds was a respectable choice. Years later, I really appreciate this money as an adult (way more than I would appreciate... an ancient TV).

Good Money Move Number Two

The second thing that went right in this situation is I didn’t cash out the bond until I oozed every last bit of interest out of it.  Although tempting, I didn’t redeem this money as a teenager to spend it on something ridiculous like a prom dress. I’m not sure what my older brothers did...

Concerning interest, I now realize I could have cashed out the bond sooner and had it working for me in the market.

But then I wouldn’t have a blog post with this ultra awesome picture in it, would I?

Good Money Move Number Three

I view money obtained this way as “easy come, easy go” try-not-to-notice-it-was-ever-there extra money.  Like my parents, I know I am lucky to even have this option.  Therefore, I’m going to pass it on.  

When my son is old enough to remember it, I will help him invest this money.  I won’t tell him why it is this amount (probably for the same reason my parents didn’t tell me the details of where it came from until I was older).  

What I will tell him, is this money exists because it’s fun to watch it grow.  It will be his first real-life example regarding the power of compound interest.

How I Got This Disgusting Money

In order to obtain some details about this lawsuit, I asked my dad about the event this past weekend.  Even decades later, he was amped up and ready to rant with his eyes popping out of his head. And rightfully so.

According to my parents, our family dog “Elwood” was my first word.  I used to stand at the door near the deck while he was on the other side.  I’d shout his name at him until he would come to the door and we would play through the glass.

Asleep in our rural rented house on an average evening in the late 1980s, my parents heard a gunshot in the middle of the night.  At least they thought they heard a gunshot. They weren’t sure. They turned on their bedroom light. Then my dad went downstairs and turned on the porch light.  An hour passed and nothing happened, so he went back to bed.

In the morning, my dad found our dog Elwood shot dead in our garage.  

We weren’t the first people this had happened to and we weren’t the last.  Week after week, family dogs in the area were senselessly being killed. Whoever was doing it was cutting off the dogs’ heads and sticking them in the owner’s mailboxes.  

Sick.

My dad thinks when he turned on the light, it must have scared the murderers away.  They had only started to drag Elwood somewhere but not made it to our mailbox.

A group of teenagers was caught later that summer.  My dad was approached by a lawyer and asked how much he thought our dog was worth.  My dad said $750 as a random number. The murderers wanted to settle out of court for one-fourth that amount.  

This felt like an insult to my dad, so he took them to court with our pastor acting as a lawyer for the teenager’s side (just some smalltown weirdness for you).  

A twist happened when the judge asked my dad if Elwood was a hunting dog. As it turned out, Elwood would go with my dad and brothers to occasionally hunt raccoons (just some backwoods insight into my childhood for you).  

The judge called the vet to see how long Elwood would have lived.  Then he called to see how much a variety of pelts cost. He did some math and came back into the courtroom to say our dead family dog was worth $1,500.  

Pay up.

One of the teenagers muttered something about our dog only being a mut, so there was no way he was worth that much.  This same kid had claimed earlier he was too out of it while on drugs to know what he was doing that night.  My dad said he must have known what he was doing if he could notice the dog was a “mut.”  

Pay up.

30 Years Later

While my father retold this story, what I found extra sad is that people are asked to put a number on such things in their lives.  I couldn’t put a number on our family dog right now.  And I can’t imagine explaining such senseless violence to my children.

As a zinger, it was weird to find out the teenager mentioned in this story is now a SECURITY GUARD at the local casino.  What?!

Cashing It In

When I walk to the bank to redeem this money on March 20th, 2019 I will not be wondering about “fun things” to do with it.  Considering I don’t even remember the event, I find this windfall money to be oddly tainted, a bit bewildering, and worth processing in a deeper manner than most money coming into my life.  Passing it on seems like the only logical option.

What do you think?  Have you ever had money that felt "tainted" to you?  What did you do with it?

Part 2 of What to Do With Lawsuit Money involves a mental health lawsuit I was part of in the early 2000s against the health care company Blue Cross Blue Shield.  Once again, a lawyer contacted us first.

Disclaimer: As always, if you need psychological or financial advice please seek a professional for your specific situation

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