Every decade or so, A.L., has some of her jewelry appraised so she can file the appraisal reports with her home insurance company in case anything is ever lost or stolen. While she's never had to file a report, A.L. takes comfort in knowing that she will be covered in case she ever has to.
Early last month, A.L. brought the existing appraisals into the jeweler she's worked with for years to have them updated. The appraiser told her how much the appraisals would cost and gave her a rough idea of how long it might take for her to receive the appraisals in the mail.
True to his word, the appraiser mailed off the appraisals to A.L.
A.L. was eager to get the new appraisals copied and sent off to her insurance company. As she looked through the appraisals, she noted how each of the values had changed, though none surprisingly so. When she got to the last appraisal in the stack, however, she was taken aback.
"It was for a pair of diamond stud earrings set in 14K gold," writes A.L. "The thing is, I don't own a pair of gold diamond stud earrings."
When she looked more closely at the appraisal, she noted that it was intended for a couple who lived in a town about 30 miles away from her.
"Clearly, the jeweler had messed up and sent me someone else's appraisal," she writes.
Now, A.L. is torn about what if any responsibility she has to correct the situation.
"Should I just send the appraisal to the right owner?" she asks? "Or should I call the jeweler and let him know about the mistake? Or should I do nothing and let them figure it out?"
While none of these options would be ethically wrong, A.L. is trying to determine the best right answer.
If she does nothing that leaves the rightful owner in the dark wondering where her appraisal is while the jeweler believes he sent her an appraisal she likely never received. If she just tells the owner, then the jeweler won't know he had made a mistake. Plus, if A.L. has a longstanding relationship with the jeweler, it would be thoughtful to give him a heads up that she had sent the appraisal on to the rightful owner.
It would be enough to just alert the jeweler to let him know about the error. But if she wants to go a step further and send the appraisal on to the owner of the earrings that would be thoughtful and likely appreciated.
After she decides how thoughtful she wants to be, the right thing is for A.L. to take action in keeping with that decision. Were it me, I'd send the appraisal onto the rightful owner and then alert the jeweler she had done so. If I were the owner of the earrings, that's what I'd prefer, and if I were the jeweler, I would want to know about my mistake so I could correct it and figure out how not to repeat it in the future.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I'm not sure how this is an ethical dilemma. It seems to me that someone who needs to ask such a question would not be particularly concerned with doing the right thing.
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