Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WSJ: Tax Court Lets DUI Driver Write Off Car Damage

DUI Following up on Friday's post, Tax Court Allows Driver Cited for DUI in Accident to Deduct Car Damage as Casualty Loss Because He 'Only' Blew a .09:  in today's Wall Street Journal, Tax Court Lets DUI Driver Write Off Car Damage, by Arden Dale:

Drink, drive, crack up the car...and write off the damage on your tax return.

For one taxpayer, that scenario became reality after he appealed a decision by the IRS.

The U.S. Tax Court last week allowed the driver of a car to write off thousands of dollars of damage after he totalled it while under the influence. [Rohrs v. Commissioner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2009-190 (Dec. 10, 2009).] ...

Paul Caron, the Associate Dean of Faculty and Charles Hartsock Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, said he found it hard to see how a court "in this day and age would treat someone driving under the influence of alcohol as not engaged in a 'willful act or willful negligence' under the tax code."

As for the judge's suggestion that Rohrs was "reasonably unaware" that he was doing something wrong, Caron says: "Really? When he had to be driven home from a party because he planned to and did get drunk? And then hops behind the wheel despite drinking at the party?"

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OK, I'll bite. Willful negligence is the standard the rest of the law calls recklessness: consciously acting with complete disregard for the consequences of one's actions. Arranging for a ride home does not sound like someone acting with complete disregard for the consequences. Waiting until he was only mildly intoxicated (0.09) does not sound like someone acting with complete disregard for the consequences.

Yes, it was bad judgment to drive while intoxicated at all. Yes, it was a violation of the ordinary standard of care. Yes, it was illegal. But not every legal violation and not every negligent act is a reckless one. The law recognizes different levels of culpability in order to most accurately and fairly tailor legal consequences to the moral responsibility of individual actors.

To conflate negligence and recklessness, as you do, defeats the whole purpose of recognizing multiple levels of culpability in the law. We want people to continue to exercise some degree of control even after they have crossed the line into negligence. Treating an individual who exercised some degree of care -- albeit less than we would like -- the same as the defendant who downed a keg with his three friends, got behind the wheel at >0.20 and killed a man would miss the opportunity to encourage restraint in situations that may already have become dangerous.

Posted by: Matt | Dec 16, 2009 2:21:15 PM

Agree wtih Matt. I blogged about this as well. The purpose of taxation is not to punish. His punishment is a conviction for DUI, having to pay fines and deal with the state's consequences, and that he is out all of the money for the truck. He is, honestly, out tens of thousands of dollars - which he is at fault for - but the line between negligence and gross negligence is clear in this case.

Posted by: Aaron | Dec 17, 2009 10:10:08 AM