Saturday, January 14, 2012

[Ethical Dilemma] Who should pay the dead man’s water bill?



A man in Ontario died suddenly, right after turning on the bathroom faucet. The water ran for three weeks, resulting in a $500 bill. His daughter is asking that the utility forgive the bill but the City Council is unsure whether it will do so.

On the one hand, someone died and the city council should be compassionate; one would think that the city utility would have some kind of fund or insurance to pay for things like this. More philosophically, it seems odd to suggest that a dead person can even be said to incur charges. He or she is no longer an "agent" in the economic sense. (Living relatives are charged for funerals, not the deceased.)


On the other hand, it’s the man’s house, it’s his water meter, and it is unclear whether taxpayers should be on the hook because of his untimely death. Someone has to pay for it. Why shouldn't it be his estate or his family? He's the one who turned on the faucet. Who else could be said to be liable?

Yes, forgiving his debt is generous and kind, but is it the right thing to do?

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3 comments:

  1. I don't think you can say that forgiving the water bill is the right or wrong thing to do. A charge was incurred, like the article states, it would be generous for the city to forgive the bill, but it is not obligated to do so. That being said, this isn't a question of right or wrong. As far as who should pay it, I would first say the man's estate. The family should not be on the book for this as they did not have any control over the situation. The same can be said for medical bills. If a person dies with no spouse to pay for medical bills, the hospital doesn't go and bill his brother. This is the same deal. The city should send a bill to the estate of the deceased if they are looking for satisfaction on the water bill. If the estate has the money, it should be paid. The deceased turned on the water and it is not the cities fault he was unable to turn it off because he died. If the estate is unable to pay, then the city is out of luck and they have to write it off as a cost of doing business with a customer base that is mortal and sometimes, "you know what" happens.

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  2. Yep, I think Matt summed it up nicely.

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  3. Even assuming the scenario as stated if there was neither volition nor negligence it depends on the contract. If estate or inheritors were not mentioned the town would be wise to chalk it up as a loss as collecting would have to first prove by whom and exactly when the water was turned on, and if the scenario is mostly true, whether A. MacPherson was dead before or after the water was turned on ~ ~ whether anybody or just a body turned on the water.

    The town should void the bill.

    It is generally accepted in law zombies cannot be billed for the damage they cause. The second reason is that, as Maimonides said, "It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to charge a single innocent one for water down the drain.", or words to that effect.

    The town should void the bill just as they would ignore the charge for the water if a backhoe split a water main, or a lightning strike opened a pipe and spilled the same amount of water.

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