I claimed for the loss of my hearing aid, thinking that I had lost it at the theatre. My insurance company paid out immediately. Some weeks later I found it in the Church office – I had in fact left it in the Church. Should I return the money to the insurance company or can I donate it to charity?
You have acquired a sum of money in good faith which you are not entitled to in justice. The insurance company has a right to the money since it has paid out for a loss which did not in fact occur (even though you genuinely thought that it had, and there was no intention on your part to defraud the company.) Therefore it would be right to restore the money to the insurance company itself. This also works in favour of the common good, since insurance companies have to raise premiums in order to offset their risks. Although an individual payment will only have a small effect on the overall calculation of risk by the company, it is a part of such calculations.
In other words, by returning the money to the insurance company, you restore to them what was, objectively speaking, unjustly taken (even though there was no fault on your part); and you accept your responsibility to foster the common good. On a practical note, your hearing aid will once again be insured.
If we come into possession of something that rightfully belongs to someone else, whether we do so by theft, or by accident, we should make restitution to the person to whom it rightfully belongs. It is only when such restitution is impossible or if there is a grave cause preventing us from restoring the property to its rightful owner, that we may discharge our responsibility by donating the thing, or an equivalent sum of money, to a charity. In the case of an insurance company, it is simple enough to restore the money to its rightful owner – your honesty will also be a good example to any employees of the company who are involved in receiving the payment that you make.
Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
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