Sunday, May 25, 2014
Soaking a neighbor holds no ethical water
How much should a neighbor have to pay to fix damage his workers do to someone else's property?
During late fall and winter, work was being done on several houses in a suburban neighborhood. The work involved trucks delivering materials to the sites. Often, because many trucks were trying to deliver goods at the same time, some parked in front of neighboring homes.
After several months of work, one homeowner noticed a large rut on his front lawn, presumably caused by a large truck either parking on the edge of his lawn or backing up over his lawn. He wasn't sure which of his neighbors' work crews had caused the rut since he hadn't been home when the damage occurred.
One of the neighbors having work done admitted that his crew's truck had caused the damage and he would make good on repairs.
When spring came, the neighbor was true to his word and repaired the damage by installing loam and sod on the lawn that had been chewed up. The homeowner thanked his neighbor for the repair.
A few weeks later, however, as the irrigation system for the homeowner's lawn was turned on for the season, it was discovered that the work crew's truck had also broken some sprinkler heads. As the irrigation company was replacing the heads, the homeowner was figuring out how to tell his neighbor that he owed him $30 for each new sprinkler head. Before work on the sprinklers was finished, however, the workers from the irrigation company abruptly left.
The homeowner waited for the workers to return that day, but they never did. When the owner of the irrigation company called back, he explained that he and the foreman on the repair crew had had an argument and the foreman walked off the job and quit. The irrigation company owner offered to repair the sprinkler heads at no cost since the homeowner had taken the day off of work to be there for a job that wasn't completed.
The homeowner still had to decide whether or not to ask his neighbor to pay for the broken heads. The neighbor had, after all, acknowledged that his worker's trucks caused the damage. Regardless of whether or not the homeowner had to pay for the repairs, they still had to be done and he would need to take more time off work to supervise the job.
Would it be wrong to seek the $60 from his neighbor for what it would have cost to replace the sprinkler heads?
Yes, it would be wrong to do so. The right thing is to accept the irrigation company's offer and not seek payment from the neighbor for something being provided gratis. Trying to turn the irrigation company owner's good faith effort into an opportunity to make some extra cash off the neighbor - who'd already repaired the homeowner's damaged lawn - for his trouble holds no water. The fact that he'd have to take another day off work can be chalked up to the cost of homeownership.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin