Mapping the legal onto ethical obligations

This week, tweedledopey did a fine job on my usual (though no longer quite as usual) Randy Cohen gig. Unlike Majikthise last week, he even mentioned me, unless there's someone else who writes regularly on Randy Cohen and spells their pseudonym, "Washer Dryer."

Here are some thoughts on this week's Ethicist, copied from my comments at his site. You really need to read his post first to get the context for this:

1. Well, there's an argument that the rental company is being somewhat generous. There's a really close analogy with damage measurements for a breached contract. In cases governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, expectation damages can be measured by the cost of going out and buying the thing you would have gotten, and then charging the party in breach the difference between what you would have paid them and what you actually paid. However, you can't buy the goods and expect the breaching party to reimburse you for the entire cost of the goods, since this puts you in a better position via breach than you would have been had the contract been executed. The question then is how much the cost of the inconvenience was, since what the letter-writer actually received wasn't what they would have had the deal gone through as planned.

2. I think I agree that reimbursing is ethically permissive but not obligatory here. Once the decision has been made to break off the relationship, the writer's options are limited to all bad cases. No reason to think having her fly there would have been any better. The argument would have to go that the letter writer should have (was obligated to have?) broken up with her sooner so that she never bought the tickets, and now he needs to reimburse her in order to make it up to her. An ethical obligation to break up earlier seems weird, so I don't know what to do here. Also, a worse but very similar version of this happened to a friend of mine. In fact, I'm sure similar things happen to tons of people, so Randy is asking for a whole lot of reimbursing here.

3. Randy has the presumption backwards. You presume the employee is authorized to give you the goods unless you have good reason to suspect otherwise.