karl_lembke (karl_lembke) wrote,

Rodent's Revenge

From the TaxProf Blog:
A man catches a mouse and decides to "get rid of it" by throwing it on a pile of burning leaves. (There's something PETA could have taken an interest in!) Needless to say, the mouse objected:
A man in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, caught a mouse inside his house. To dispose of it, he threw it on a pile of leaves that he was burning outside the house. The mouse, on fire, escaped from its hellish environment and ran back into the man's house. And somehow set it on fire. The firefighters, who claimed this was a first for them, determined that the mouse had run to a point underneath a window. Though the story doesn't explain what happened, I'm guessing that there were curtains on the window. The house, and everything in it, was destroyed.

So why was this in a tax professor's blog? This story is fodder for a point in tax law, governing when a loss is deductible.
The question for the students: was the man's actions ordinary negligence (thus permitting a casualty loss deduction) or gross negligence (precluding a casualty loss deduction)? Jim notes:
Was the man grossly negligent? Was the house fire a "foreseeable consequence" of tossing of a captured mouse into a pile of burning leaves? Would it matter if outdoor leaf burning was illegal? Ah, this question means that there is more information that is required. Some towns have permanent bans on outdoor leaf burning, and others impose temporary bans during droughts or periods of high fire risk. Considering the number of wildfires that pop up in New Mexico, this is more than a theoretical possibility. Is it against public policy to throw living mice into burning leaf policies? Did the man have a chance to extinguish the fire at the window? Did he try? Oh, if it matters, the man was 81 years of age. Maybe that matters. Maybe not.

Hint to the gentleman: even the most ornery cat would have done less damage to the house.

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