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What's the fair way to deal with a friend accidentally damaging my laptop?
November 21, 2011 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Ethics filter: Friend spilled a drink causing $750 damage to my laptop. Fair to request $750 from him? Can I apply that money to a new computer rather than just repairing this one?

On Saturday at a small party at my apartment a friend accidentally spilled a drink on my Macbook Air. He dried it off quickly but I guess some seeped into the keys because one of the ports on the side stopped working, and now it restarts randomly.

I took it to the Apple store where they opened it and examined it. They said the liquid damage was "pervasive" and would cost $755 to repair. I called around town to third party repair shops today and they didn't have any lower prices.

Is it fair to ask for $800 ($755 + tax) from him? It was just an unfortunate accident.

Now that price is almost 2/3 of a new Macbook Air which I'd like. Could I just get the new one and ask for $800 towards it? What happens to the broken one?

I left my job in April to join a start-up, so I have a small but comfortable amount of savings, but no income. He just graduated so he has no savings (and maybe some student loans?) but a comfortable income.

What's fair here? I kind of want the new laptop since it fits my needs better going forward (it's smaller; I'll be traveling more), but it feels a bit like I'm taking advantage of the situation vs. just asking for him to repair my current laptop.
posted by losvedir to Religion & Philosophy (53 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It was an accident. He doesn't owe you anything.
posted by phrontist at 4:32 PM on November 21, 2011 [47 favorites]


If I accidentally broke someone else's laptop and could afford to cover the cost of repairing it, I'd want to do it. This isn't like a dropped dinner plate or something - a broken laptop is a serious loss.

I also wouldn't care if someone used the money towards a new laptop. The way I'd see it, I owe them the cost of repairing it. What they do with it after that is their business.
posted by anaximander at 4:35 PM on November 21, 2011


What's fair is for him to apologize profusely and give you $0 -- you left valuable electronics out at a party, where drinks are known to get spilled. He also wouldn't owe you if he spilled red wine on your white carpet or accidentally broke a vase -- it's the risk you take when you have a party, and why you need to be proactively protective of your belongings.
posted by brainmouse at 4:35 PM on November 21, 2011 [27 favorites]


I agree with phrontist, I don't think your friend owes you anything. Were you also at fault for leaving your laptop out during a party at your place?
posted by shoesietart at 4:36 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


If he offered to pay, you can do whatever you want with the cash. He might also find some other way to replace it with something similar.

If you're about to hand him a bill (spoken or otherwise)... reconsider.
posted by supercres at 4:36 PM on November 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


You left your computer out at a party? That was not a good idea - your computer should have been put away in your bedroom. If you were playing music on your computer, you should have put it on a high shelf to avoid such mishaps.

I understand that you want some money from him, but I definitely don't think he owes you $800 - it would be nice if he chipped in $100, maybe.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:37 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Did he offer to pay for the damage? I would certainly not call him and say, "dude, you owe my $755 plus tax."

Even if he did offer, I personally would consider this The Universe telling me to just buy a new computer and let it go. These things happen, and leaving your laptop out during a party is kind of asking for it to get spilled on (even by you).
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:37 PM on November 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


If you are partially at fault, you could split the repair cost and he gives you $400, which you can spend as you see fit. If he offers. I would feel bad if I caused damage to such an expensive item.
posted by shoesietart at 4:38 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where was the laptop? If it was out and about at the party it definitely isn't this guy's responsibility. If it was, say, in your bedroom behind a closed door, and he went in there and took his drink & then spilled it, then I'd ask him for the money.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:38 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't ask him for the money, but if he offers, I would split the repair cost with him (then use the money however you want).
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:39 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I definitely don't think it is fair to ask him for $800 if you are going to buy a new laptop. The fact that you want a new one is irrelevant to the fact that it is his fault your old one is broken.

Otherwise, did he offer to give you some compensation? He should have. Maybe you can come to an agreement and split it 50/50? Since it was an accident it seems rather greedy to ask him to fork over the whole $800, especially since he is a friend and it was at your party. That being said, if he is a friend, you'd think he would offer to at least help out with the cost.
posted by costanza at 4:39 PM on November 21, 2011


> Were you also at fault for leaving your laptop out during a party at your place?

I'm not sure. The laptop was sitting by itself on a chair away from people. I'm not sure exactly what happened as I had stepped out for a few minutes. I think Flash video games were being played.

> If he offered to pay, you can do whatever you want with the cash.

Yes, he offered to pay whatever the cost was to fix it, but this was before we knew it would be $800. He hasn't said anything different since then, but I feel like now I should offer some other solution, or ask him to pay less or something.
posted by losvedir at 4:42 PM on November 21, 2011


Your computer probably shouldn't have been out during a party. If your friend had taken your computer out of a safe place (without your permission) and then spilled the drink, I'd consider asking him to split the cost, but if you left the laptop out or gave him permission to use it, you should replace or repair the laptop yourself.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 4:43 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I spilled a drink on someone's laptop, I'd expect to be paying the full cost of repairs. If I spilled wine on their carpet, I'd expect to pay for the cleaning. If I broke a plate, I'd expect to pay for a replacement. If I rear ended someone with my car, I'd expect to pay for the damage. Even if I didn't mean to do it, it was still caused by my actions and is my responsibility to pay for it.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:46 PM on November 21, 2011 [30 favorites]


but I feel like now I should offer some other solution, or ask him to pay less or something.

That's reasonable. As others have said, half seems appropriate. "Hey man, I know you said you'd pay for repairs, but it's more expensive than we thought. Sucks. How about half-- $400?"

You can evaluate whether it's worth it to repair. If you can get more than $400 for the old MBA on Craigslist, repair it and sell it.
posted by supercres at 4:46 PM on November 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Sorry about your laptop - that sucks :( Unfortunately, if you use your computer near drinks, this is something that happens some times, and it would seem irresponsible to me to make your friend pay the full price. I certainly wouldn't ask for more than half the cost.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:49 PM on November 21, 2011


If this happened to me then in general my shit it my shit to take care of. If this is a good friend and they made an honest mistake I'd eat it as if a freak soda storm just occurred in my house and broke my computer. Thats life.

But that's me and I'm sometimes overly forgiving.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:50 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I spilled a drink on someone's laptop, I would offer to compensate them for the cost of repair or replacement. I have done exactly this before in a similar situation.

If someone spilled their drink on my laptop and didn't offer to compensate me, I would say nothing and do nothing, but I would think less of that person, in some way.

The details matter, if my broke best friend did it completely by accident, I would decline the offer...but I would still expect him to offer.
posted by Kwine at 4:51 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is one of those situations where he should offer but you shouldn't ask. Stuff happens. When you allowed him to use your laptop, drink in hand (You say you didn't tell him he could use it? You served drinks, you left the laptop out... you kinda did allow it) you actually created the situation. It does kinda suck.
posted by brownrd at 4:53 PM on November 21, 2011


That really sucks.

But...

Put your valuables away when you have more than a few people over. This is party rule 1 and your friend has no obligation to pony up. You can resent the friend, but I think you'd be projecting. I'm sorry it was an expensive lesson. :(
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:54 PM on November 21, 2011


Leaving the extremely thin and inconspicuous MacBook Air on a chair at a party was a terrible idea. Lesson learned. Move on.
posted by John Cohen at 4:55 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I agree with supercres - if they were using your computer and he offered to pay, be reasonable and ask for $400. If he says he can't afford it, you could offer to let him pay what he can.

It sounds like he acknowledges his role in the accident and takes responsibilty for it. I would do the same and would do everything I could to make it right. I'm surprised by the apparently majority consensus that he owes you nothing.

However if it comes down to keeping your friendship or getting the money, I'd suck it up and keep the friendship. Friendship should take precedence over getting "what's fair."

Oh, and get the new computer. The universe agrees and is giving you that opportunity. :-)

Good luck. What a shitty situation.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:56 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, he offered to pay whatever the cost was to fix it, but this was before we knew it would be $800. He hasn't said anything different since then, but I feel like now I should offer some other solution, or ask him to pay less or something.

I'd probably go with something like:

"Dude, the Apple Store says it's going to cost $800 to fix it. Ouch. I appreciate your offer to pay for the repair. But that's a lot of money and I've been thinking. Accidents happen, and I know neither of us is swimming in cash right now. At this point I'm thinking it makes more sense for me to upgrade to a new one instead of sinking so much money into a repair. If you want to chip in, I'd sure be grateful. If not, that's cool too. It's unfortunate that it happened, but I really don't want either of us to end up losing a friend over it.

P.S. Whatever happens, you're not going near the new one."
posted by Balonious Assault at 5:00 PM on November 21, 2011 [48 favorites]


I think, since he's offering, it might be fair to say, Dude, they want 800$! I know you're kind of broke, but can you swing maybe half of that? If the answer is no, that's life, but at least you'll have asked (which would make me feel better in that sort of scenario), while giving him a halfway graceful way out if he really can't swing it. I think i'd save the "I got a new computer with the money" for another conversation.
posted by Ys at 5:03 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fact, I am finding that I care about this quite a bit, as I chew it a little bit. I'm not sure that I'd continue to be friends with someone who spilled a drink on somebody's laptop in my presence and didn't offer to pay for it. I'm also not sure that I'd continue to be friends with someone who demanded payment for their laptop without the payment being offered first. My friends go out of their way to take responsibility for their actions and err on the side of taking extra responsibility.

This kind of social gesture is very important.
posted by Kwine at 5:05 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


By the way, what if it were a white fabric couch, and he spilled wine all over it? You'd get estimates for cleaning, and if it were more than a little, you'd probably split it 50/50 (since he offered), given that things like this happen at parties. Just putting that out there, to help you visualize this without the "oh shit my laptop" and "aw I should have locked it away" feelings that can cloud judgement.
posted by davejay at 5:06 PM on November 21, 2011


In fact, I am finding that I care about this quite a bit, as I chew it a little bit. I'm not sure that I'd continue to be friends with someone who spilled a drink on somebody's laptop in my presence and didn't offer to pay for it. I'm also not sure that I'd continue to be friends with someone who demanded payment for their laptop without the payment being offered first. My friends go out of their way to take responsibility for their actions and err on the side of taking extra responsibility.

Note that he did offer to pay for it, so those conditions are met in this case.
posted by davejay at 5:08 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I feel like now I should offer some other solution, or ask him to pay less or something.

I think you should go with your gut. If you did know the answer, what would it be?

This thread illustrates that people have varying ethics. Some shrug and say, "Accidents happen. He owes you nothing." Others think he should offer to pay for the repair, and some think you should decline if you think he can't afford it. It's a wide plot. There are even people telling you that you bear some responsibility for "leaving it out" during a party, an "obvious mistake." (What the heck kind of parties do these people have, is my question!)

The trick is to figure out what's right for you, and from reading what you've written, it sounds like you already have a gut instinct in a particular direction. If you didn't, then I'd say sure, listen to X and Y and Z and then choose. But if I'm right and you do have an instinct in one direction, I'd really advise you to go with that. It might take some pondering to figure the details, but really, none of us know you or your friend or either's finances or your respective ages or the history of your friendship or what happened at this party. You're the man on the ground. Sort out what your instinct is telling you, and go with that—secure in the knowledge that apart from simply doing that, there isn't a "right" answer.
posted by red clover at 5:11 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Saying "it was an accident, you have no right to be compensated" is preposterous. By that same rationale, if somebody "accidentally" ran you over with a car, you couldn't sue. Or if your neighbors kid threw a baseball through you window, you wouldn't be within your rights to demand the child's parents pay the cost of replacing the window.

Also, in terms of what the law says, you're entitled to the current depreciated value of your computer--ie, what you would pay for an the identical used model on craigslist or ebay. You're not entititled to the (far higher) cost of a new comparable model. So in terms of how much is a fair amount to request from you friend, the this legal principle is a fair way to judge what reasonable
posted by BadgerDoctor at 5:13 PM on November 21, 2011


Is your friendship with him - and everyone he knows - worth more to you than $750?
posted by joannemullen at 5:17 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'd go with what Balonious Assault says; that was really good.

To address the other question you asked, if you're in a court of law and the judge ordered your friend to replace your computer, then he'd own it. Further, you would not be awarded the cost of a new computer, but rather the amount of your loss, which would be depreciated cost (which, I have to think, would probably be somewhere in the arena of $800). So, if I were to hazard a guess, if your friend were to pony up $800, he'd then be the proud owner of your MacBook Air, sticky keys and all. But yeah, if you let drunk people play games on your computer during a party... well, you know the rest of that sentence unfortunately. Sorry, man.
posted by heyho at 5:17 PM on November 21, 2011


Yes, he offered to pay whatever the cost was to fix it, but this was before we knew it would be $800. He hasn't said anything different since then, but I feel like now I should offer some other solution, or ask him to pay less or something.

I vote you split it, just my amateur opinion though (it's what I did last year when I lent a bike to a friend and he had it stolen, through no fault of his own - he offered to give me full value, I asked for half, which he gladly paid along with a case of beer, we got drunk and laughed it off, no hard feelings on either side. win.)
posted by mannequito at 5:18 PM on November 21, 2011


I'd tell my friend the cost, tell him I'd like to put that cost towards a new computer, tell him I was struggling with all the issues you mentioned (how much to ask him to pay, friendship important, etc.), and then ask him what he though, and what he thought was fair.

You have a joint problem, and some possibly joint goals (keep the friendship), and some different ones (you, get new computer. Him: ?)

It doesn't matter what we say. Why not find where your friend lies on the 'who's responsible' spectrum and work it out together. Because the alternative is that you think $400 is fair, and your friend doesn't. Or you think $800 is too much, but your friend thinks that is appropriate, based on his values. Before you make decisions, why not put all the data (costs, concerns) on the table and solve it jointly.


Personally, if I poured liquid on a friend's laptop accidentally, I'd pay $800, even if it was over time, etc. That doesn't mean it's right for you and your friend. *

*it just means that you might really, really wish that I was your friend right now :)
posted by anitanita at 5:20 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Edit, second sentence: if the judge ordered your friend to PAY FOR (not REPLACE) your computer, then he'd own it.
posted by heyho at 5:20 PM on November 21, 2011


Do you have insurance?
posted by odinsdream at 5:20 PM on November 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is this something that your renters'/homeowners' insurance would cover? I'd start there and if it's something that insurance would have covered and you've taken the risk not to have any, well I'd say that is another tick in favor of your having to cover the cost as part of the risk that you took leaving your Macbook Air out at a party and not having any sort of insurance for it. If your friend would like to contribute, I think that splitting the cost with him as others have suggested would be fair.
posted by kaybdc at 5:24 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


if you're in a court of law and the judge ordered your friend to replace your computer, then he'd own it.

This has not been my experience. Are you sure you're not confusing an "insurance total" of an automobile [where the garage can keep it, maybe] and this situation. My experience in small claims is that if the judge orders them to pay, they pay, they don't get your stuff.

It's sort of neither here nor there, I think offering the split the cost is a decent thing to do and might be something you can work out with your friend payment-plan-wise and then I think it's also totally fine if you just put this money towards a new laptop.
posted by jessamyn at 5:32 PM on November 21, 2011


What kaybdc said. I have renters coverage for exactly this kind of situation. Now, mine is an add on, but some policies might cover this as a matter of course. If that's the case, I'd consider asking him to contribute to the deductible (depending on how much that is).
posted by devinemissk at 5:35 PM on November 21, 2011


I think asking him to pay half is the decent thing to do, and if he's decent, he'll gladly pony up the cash. It was his fault, after all.
posted by duvatney at 5:54 PM on November 21, 2011


If you leave your expensive, tempting equipment out at a party, where there will be drinking, lack of sobriety, and people who assume that laptops are for fun at parties, you may not want to leave the party, or leave the laptop out. Also, you don't have AppleCare? or it doesn't cover spills?

If you are a guest at a party, you probably shouldn't use your friend's expensive equipment unless you can take proper care of it, and certainly not without asking.

There may be someone who can disassemble it and clean it for less than the Apple Store.

Go sit down with friend. Try to look at it from his side. Ask him to look at it from your side. ask him, honestly, what he thinks is fair. What he can afford, and what you can afford, are fair issues for discussion. Yeah, he should pitch in. And if you use some money to buy a new laptop, that's okay.
posted by theora55 at 6:13 PM on November 21, 2011


Not a direct answer but might be some consolation -- we had liquid damage to our Air and the Apple Store said it would be $750 flat-rate to fix. We decided to go for it. A few days later, it was back at the store and we went to pick it up, and were very surprised and pleased to find that the bill was only about $400. So, know that the "flat rate" isn't really a flat rate, and you might end up paying less.
posted by Perplexity at 6:13 PM on November 21, 2011


Well, though I am generally in the split the difference camp, one thing I wouldn't do is use the money to get a new laptop. That, from a purely friendship based perspective, feels to me LESS like having your friend help you fix a problem for which you share responsibility and MORE like collecting damages from a friend. Buying a new laptop w/proceeds would be a little uncool in my book.
posted by skbw at 7:07 PM on November 21, 2011


I had a problem with my last Mac laptop which the Apple Store said would require a fairly pricy part (replacing a faulty logic board)... Eventually they suggested an alternative: they could ship it off somewhere (I think it turned out to be an Apple facility in Texas), which would take 5-7 days round trip, but they'd fix anything wrong with it for $300.

They replaced both the logic board and a faulty DVD drive, in less time than advertised. Lesson learned: be sure to ask if there's a flat rate repair option!
posted by janewman at 7:28 PM on November 21, 2011


In situations like this, I find it useful to know what the law says. My totally uneducated guess is that the law might have a pretty clear answer on whether your friend would owe you money in a situation like this, and if so, how much.

That's a really useful function of laws - to be an external standard of who owes who what, in situations where reasonable people exercising common sense might disagree (as people have done in this thread).

So... if the law says your friend owes you nothing, it might make more sense to back off. On the other hand, if the law says your friend owes you the full price of repairing the machine, it might make more sense to see if he might be willing to pay for at least part of it.
posted by ManInSuit at 8:15 PM on November 21, 2011


If I were at a party and approached someone's property that was not in the main of the event--without asking permission or anything--to do something with it, and in the process I damaged it, it would only be decent for me to pay something. Toss the repair cost his way and see what he thinks.

I think the friend's socioeconomic status is relevant as well (as is, perhaps, yours). If he makes real money, perhaps more money (at least half of the repair costs) might be expected in recompense; if he's struggling or doesn't make terribly much, perhaps just something to indicate that he is sorry for the degree to which he is responsible--however much it is--and to make it easier for both him not to feel guilty and for you not to possibly resent him.
posted by Keter at 9:10 PM on November 21, 2011


If he offered to pay, then you should take that at face value & let him know the quoted $755 + tax, perhaps with a proviso "Hey, I didn't expect it to be this much...are you still sure you can cover it?".

He seems to want to make amends, so there's no need to second guess his offer, but give him an "out" if it's more than he can afford.

That's for a repair. If you're thinking of getting a new machine, I think a different set of rules applies - otherwise, you're getting a benefit from his financial hit, which could cause resentment. Even if the amount he'd pay would be the same, there's still something iffy about you taking advantage of this accident - especially considering that the $800 repair bill is probably more than the current laptop would be worth for resale if it was working.

If you intend to buy a new machine, I'd suggest decreasing his portion to, say, $400, which is a kind of win-win: "Hey, the repair would've been $800 but I don't think it's worth it for an old machine...how about you chip in half that & I'll get a new macbook instead?" - then if he thinks it's appropriate, he can insist on paying the full $800, which makes it his choice and not your demand.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:30 PM on November 21, 2011


Cost of repairs is 2/3 of the cost of the new MBA. I'd probably say something along the lines of splitting the cost of the new laptop. He gets to save money and you get a new computer. He should be paying for it, he broke you computer. Work out something that lets you stay friends if possible.

I had a friend whose son broke my glasses, he never even offered to help replace them. I would have declined the help, but the offer would have been nice; so your friend is already a step up by offering to pay the repair.
posted by arcticseal at 9:48 PM on November 21, 2011


I'm not sure. The laptop was sitting by itself on a chair away from people. I'm not sure exactly what happened as I had stepped out for a few minutes. I think Flash video games were being played.

This is a red flag. Did he pull out your laptop without asking you, mess around on it, and spill a drink on it? In this case, he owes you the repair price, end of story. Even if it's an honest accident on his part, he stepped over a boundary, he has offered to make it right, and it's fine for you to take him up on that.

If you had it out and running and told him to have fun with it, then that's another matter. In that case, it's an honest mistake and you messed up as much as he did. Tell him that. If he insists on paying something, it would be rude to refuse him outright. If not, then let it go and just remember to put away the electronics before the parties.
posted by Saydur at 10:54 PM on November 21, 2011


I'd just like to provide a counterweight to the people saying that it's your fault that your electronics were broken at a party.

If I invited someone into my home and they broke an expensive piece of electronics through carelessly spilling something on them, I'd rethink ever letting them in my house or around any of my things again. If they didn't immediately offer to replace the broken item (as your friend did) I'd write them off permanently.

Being in someone else's house is not an excuse to act like a drunken toddler.
posted by winna at 11:00 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it was really only an honest mistake, an "accident", but a real accident: not an outcome of some impertinent, reckless behaviour, which changes everything —then it was not his fault. It was not your fault too. There was no fault. There was only an unfortunate misalignment of the stars with an unfortunate timing. Think of it like this: if the drink had spilled on the floor, the act —the accidental spilling of the drink— would still be the same act, yet you would only laugh together, wipe the floor and continue partying without giving this non-event a second thought. I'm sorry that the floor was your laptop.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about it. You are friends. That's way more important than... whatever. If he is a decent friend, he'll feel sorry and try to help you out with the money as much as he can afford to. If you are a decent friend, you will feel happy to have such a decent friend if he does that, and will not hold a grudge or start to talk like it's a business transaction and not a friendship in the case he fails to.
posted by procrastinator at 7:31 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just some barely-related anecdata: I hit a friend's (old, shitty) car in a parking lot. He got an estimate and made me pay him $200 for what the damages were to cost. He then NEVER EVER got it fixed EVER and now I'm not his friend anymore. If your friend gives you any money, please respect his kindness and manners, and put the money towards fixing the computer. If he came over to your house after giving you $400-$800 and saw your same laptop in use, still broken. he would feel pretty upset with you. Sorry about your computer. I never have parties for this exact reason!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:55 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


That last comment just reminded me that the same thing happened to my wife and I! Paid the guy $800 bucks (in accordance with quotes to repair his truck) and then he never fixed it.

We essentially defriended him, except in real life.
posted by resurrexit at 11:13 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is what insurance is for.
posted by w0mbat at 11:34 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


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