Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Forty years ago, J.B., a reader from Columbus, Ohio, was a newlywed happily beginning married life. One day, J.B. received a distraught call from his wife. As she was sweeping some flower trimmings into the garbage disposal, she inadvertently swept her engagement ring into it, as well.

J.B. told his wife not to run anything else through the disposal — including water — until he could get home to take a look at it. “When I pulled the debris out of the disposal,” he writes, “the mangled mounting was recovered, but the one-carat flawless center stone was missing.”

J.B. completely disassembled the disposal, but could not find the missing diamond. Fortunately, the ring was insured and he notified the insurance company, which paid them to have the ring replaced.

Two years later, as his wife opened a seldom-used kitchen window to wipe out the sill, she found the lost diamond stuck between the window and the sill. Apparently, it had been expelled from the disposal in the process of being ripped from its mounting. “It was a little worse for the wear as it had a small chip in the girdle,” writes J.B. Since their homeowners policy was with the same insurance agency, he immediately called his agent to report the finding.

Because it had sentimental value, J.B. and his wife wanted to keep the diamond. But they asked that it be reappraised with the chip in it and they would agree to pay the insurance company based on its value. The insurance agent was taken aback and said he had never handled anything like this before, but that he would get back to J.B. Weeks passed, and after making several more calls without response, J.B. mailed his agent a registered letter requesting resolution of the matter. Still no response.

J.B. then called the insurance company directly and explained the situation to the head of the claims department. He, too, said they’d never had someone notify them of a recovery after a claim was paid, but that he would look into how to resolve it. More weeks passed and no response. J.B. sent the company a registered letter, as well.

As the years passed and no response seemed forthcoming, J.B.’s wife had the stone remounted. J.B. realizes that the stone belongs to the insurance company, but it also has great sentimental value to his wife.

J.B. believes he went beyond making a good-faith effort to resolve the issue. “To this day,” he writes, “part of me feels I should have sent the stone to them, but I am equally positive we would never have seen it again.”

"Your thoughts?” he asks.

Except for dropping the diamond ring into the disposal, J.B. and his wife did the right thing by persistently contacting their insurance company. They went out of their way to try to compensate their insurer for finding the lost ring and the company dropped the ball. They should feel absolutely no guilt.

As testament to his honorable intentions, J.B. writes: “My offer stands should the insurance company choose to contact me today.”

After 40 years, if that isn’t honorable, what is?

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

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Sheila Siler said...

Unfortunately I bet you'd be hard pressed to find people who would even try to return it now.

Sheila Siler said...

Unfortunately I bet you'd be hard pressed to find people who would even try to return it now.

Anonymous said...

This fellow did everything correctly. He looked for it quite diligently when it was lost, he honestly reported what happened, he collected what he was entitled to by insurance he paid for and informed the company later when he thought he morally should. Several times at that. Because the insurance company has no method of handling such information, they choose to ignore it. Their choice. It would cost them more to change their system than the diamond is worth. He should go through life realizing that he went above and beyond to try and fix a problem (in his eyes) that did not need fixing as far as insurance was concerned. Rest and relax feeling good about himself is the answer.

Patricia Clason said...

He has done more than necessary to make it right with the insurance company. He has been honorable to his value system and his personal integrity and should now just let it go.

It is a rare person in today's world who would work this hard to rectify something of this nature. I commend him for his persistence. We would all do well to care at this level of integrity!

While I find in my ethics classes that most people would agree that in a situation where a claim was paid and the item found, an attempt to repay or return the insurance claim money is warrented, most would quit much earlier than this man did.