Who pays for burglarized car?

I cared for, and used, a soldier's car while she was deployed. A thief broke the window and took the GPS

Published June 20, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

A few months ago a friend, "Ann," was deployed and asked me if I would mind driving her car around occasionally while she was away so that it did not just sit for six months. She said she had asked me because I could drive a manual transmission and most of her other friends already have cars, so she thought I might get some use out of it. I agreed, we worked it out with her insurance, and I drove it once or twice a month to do some grocery shopping, pick friends up from the airport and go to IKEA. I might have driven it more, but I live in a city where driving is kind of a pain anyway, and it took me over an hour to get from my home to her car. When I did use the car, I would either make a day trip or keep it in the city over the weekend and drive it back to her underground garage in the suburbs on Sunday night.

About two months before Ann was scheduled to arrive home her roommate moved out of the apartment, and Ann asked if I would mind going to pick up her mail and any packages that arrived. Eager to help my friend while she is serving our country, I agreed. She began sending some of her things home from overseas, so there were packages almost every week, and she was concerned that they would be sent back if not picked up within a few days. I began to make once-weekly trips -- while I really was glad to do it, it was not an insignificant amount of time or effort I put in. One weekend I used the car for some gardening errands and kept it in the city an extra day so that I could drive it out to the suburbs in the morning, take care of her mail, commute back into the city, and begin my week. When I went to get it, the car had been broken into. Ann's window was shattered, and her GPS had been stolen, along with cords and chargers for the GPS and her phone.

I felt terrible about it. I was angry at myself for not taking it home the night before and for leaving the GPS in the console, and angrier at whoever did this (I imagined they targeted her car because her license plate is not local). I felt really guilty for the damage, even though I didn't feel I put the car in any particular danger. The incident disrupted my week quite a bit, as I had to file a police report, wait for fingerprinters, arrange to have the glass replaced, drive it across town to another friend's garage in a safer neighborhood for the night when it did not have a window so it wouldn't come to any more harm, and miss classes and meetings to be there with the key when they replaced the window.

I emailed Ann and let her know what happened -- she was concerned, but thanked me for taking care of it for her. Because the damage did not exceed the deductible on her insurance, I paid for the window replacement ($250). Do you think I am obligated to replace the GPS as well? Does it make a difference that I am a graduate student living primarily off of loans and a tiny research assistant "salary," while she makes considerably more money than I do?


In Need of Some Direction

Dear In Need of Some Direction,

You have gone to considerable lengths to remedy what you could remedy and have paid out of pocket for the damage to the car. You took no unreasonable risks. You were not reckless or thoughtless. Your motives were honorable. Provided the remainder of her tour of duty goes without incident, she will return home happy to have a car to drive and happy that her friend was able to get some benefit from it and do some errands for her in the bargain.

So I'm fine with the situation and I hope you are too.

But I have an idea. A car window can be replaced easily because car windows do not advance technologically from week to week. GPS units, however, change rapidly. So even if you wanted to replace her unit, you might not find that unit or it might not make sense to replace it. So for you to try to replace it before she arrives home might not make sense even if it were the right thing to do. She might want a voice in which model to get.

I am looking at ads for GPS units and they are not all that expensive. Some Garmin units range in price from $79 to $129.

So here is my idea. Rather than wait to see if your friend raises the issue, what if, when your friend returns, you were to offer to go shopping with her and buy her a new GPS? Not because you're necessarily obligated to do it, but because you want to show her you are glad she is back. You want to make her return as trouble-free and comfortable as possible.

She might turn you down and say that you've done enough. She might offer to pay half. Or she might take you up on your offer.

You would risk having to spend the money, but it would be a humane gesture. It would show generosity and a desire to make her whole. It might be fun to do it together, if she wanted.

It would also be a way of saying, Welcome back, soldier.  Let me help you find your way.

By Cary Tennis

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