John needs money to buy the farm he has always dreamed of. If his aunt dies this week, John will inherit the needed money from her, although John does not know that. He does not like his aunt very much. Miles away, his aunt is stuck in her home, which is in flames. Mary breaks into the house and saves the aunt, who would have died otherwise. My question is: did Mary (unknowingly) harm John? (I am a lawyer.)

Great question! I suggest that Mary did not (unknowingly) harm John, given the case as described. One reason for thinking this is not a harm is a kind of slippery slope line of reasoning. If John is harmed by the rescue of his aunt, many, many people are being harmed right now when their benefactors are enabled to live. You have singled out John as facing a timely opportunity (without the money this week, the farm of his dreams slips through his fingers), but I suspect that my nephews and nieces would really like their inheritance from me right now for all kinds of reasons and, while I hope they actually love me and would prefer I lived a while longer, I think it would be (at least) odd for them to believe they were harmed when I narrowly escaped death from a drunk driver car accident. Actually, come to think of it, I can imagine my nephew and niece thinking "if only that bloke had driven a little faster, we would have the funds we want from Uncle Charles's estate' so maybe this is not so odd. But (more seriously) I suggest that for John's not inheriting the needed money to count as a harm, I propose that the intermediary cause in the rescue of the aunt would have to be (relevantly) nefarious or morally wrong. So, the following case would (I suggest) count as a harm to John... Forgive me embellishing your earlier stories...

Mary actually set the fire herself intending to kill the Aunt when she realized that if she follows through with her intentional, murderous killing, John (her ex-husband) will receive a benefit. She so hates the idea of John getting that farm, she changes her mind, rescues the Aunt, but resolves to kill the Aunt two weeks later when the farm of John's dreams will have been sold to Harry, someone Mary likes.

Doesn't that seem plausible? If not, consider a more straightforward wrongful act in which the aunt dies but a cruel act by Mary could reasonably be seen as a harm to John.

The aunt dies in the fire. Mary arrives too late, but she locates the Aunt's proper legal will that makes John the beneficiary which she then destroys and substitutes a forgery making Mary the beneficiary.

I hope this is helpful.

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