Sunday, May 03, 2015
"Lost" jewelry suddenly found poses an ethical dilemma
Readers can't seem to hold onto their jewelry.
A reader from South Carolina once told me that after losing one diamond earring from a pair, she received a cash settlement from her insurance company, then felt guilty that she was able to find a replacement earring for far less than the settlement. She had no reason to feel guilty.
Another reader from Ohio told me he'd been trying for 40 years to repay the insurance company that cut him check for what he thought was a lost diamond ring which showed years after the settlement. The company acknowledged his request but never asked him to return the money. He did the right thing by persistently contacting the insurance company.
Now, a reader from Texas writes that she lost a diamond engagement ring and wedding band set. (Diamonds, in particular, seem to be hard to hold onto.)
"The set disappeared from my home," she writes. "After what I thought was a thorough search, we reported this missing jewelry to our insurance company." She'd insured the set for its full value on her homeowner's insurance policy.
The reader sent her insurance company the appraisal for the ring set. Not long after, she received a settlement for the value of the set and quickly found a nearly identical ring and band.
"I was very pleased," she writes.
Of course, the reader then found her missing rings.
"The ethical problem is, do I call the insurance company and return the replacement rings? Or do I not return them and convince myself that this was just the insurance functioning as we'd paid for the policy to do?" she writes.
If the reader is seeking legal advice, she's chosen the wrong fellow. I'm not a lawyer, nor am I an expert on insurance. If she's worried about breaking the law by not notifying her insurance company about finding the rings, she should contact a lawyer. Most states have a statute of limitations on insurance fraud. But it's unlikely that finding the rings for which the reader was reimbursed within a year of losing them would meet such requirements.
Even if it did, the right thing to do is contact the insurance company, reveal that she's found the rings she assumed were lost, and work with company to make things right.
The reader is correct that her insurance coverage functioned as it should to help replace her lost jewelry. But once she found the rings on which she'd placed a claim, it's up to her to let the insurance company know what happened.
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
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.