Written on May 19, 2008. Written by .

Bugati Veyron (Photo courtesy of Mike Mertz)

Bugati Veyron
If you accidentally damaged this car, should you have to pay for it?
Photo courtesy of Mike Mertz

Recently I was on a run in Bel Air and I noticed there was a car that was worth about an order of magnitude more than my net assets parked on the side of the road. I was barely a foot away from it and a slight misstep could cause a big scratch. I started thinking about what I would do if I did scratch it. Should I offer to pay for the damages? It could cost my whole life savings. Something about that didn’t seem right. I mean, imagine if someone decided to plant their glasses on the sidewalk in front of their house. That would clearly be irresponsible, so it would be ridiculous to pay for their mistake when you step on the glasses. But is it any different when they leave their expensive property in the road? I don’t think there is any real distinction. Everyone should be liable for their own property. The only reason why someone else should have to pay for damage is if they did something illegal to cause that damage, for example trespassing or speeding. So if you accidentally cause damage to some one’s property, I don’t think you should feel any obligation to pay. If you are friends with them, you may want to pay so that your friend won’t get mad at you, but there isn’t an obligation.

Just think what it would mean if you were obligated to pay for accidental damages. Effectively that means that all property is insured by the public. Insurance has value and distributing it communally is like an inverse wealth tax. Everybody pays equally because they have the same chance of accidentally causing damage, but those who have more property benefit more because they are getting more free insurance. I think anyone would agree that taxing the poor to benefit the rich is pretty bad news. So unless some illegal actions occurred, the owner should retain the liability.

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