The Case – A Snowball Effect

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Due to severe snow conditions, Alan chose to park his car in front of his home, instead of in his snow-filled driveway.  The following morning, he found his left taillight smashed and a note on his front window. Sari, his next-door neighbor, when pulling her car out of her driveway, skidded on ice, and crashed into Alan’s car. Alan assessed the cost of damage by his mechanic, and Sari agreed to pay the $500 cost of repairs. The car repair was scheduled for the following morning. That evening, Alan chose to park his car on the opposite side of the street, to distance his car from Sari’s driveway. However, his efforts were to no avail, as Jacklyn hit Alan’s right taillight as she exited her driveway. Once again, Alan found a note on his front window, and naturally Jacklyn was willing to cover the cost of repairs. As scheduled, Alan brought his car to the garage the following morning, now repairing two identical smashed taillights. The garage mechanic quoted him a total price of $800, which included repairing two taillights, body work, and parts. The mechanic explained that although each side of the car is estimated at $500, since both sides are being done together, the collective price is $800. The three neighbors came before Bet Din, to determine how they should split the payment between them.  

Is Sari to pay $500 for the left tail and Jacklyn $300 for the right, each bearing liability according to the sequence of events? Or perhaps, since the total of damage is $800, each is to pay $400. Or is Alan entitled to collect from both Sari and Jacklyn $500 each and pocket a $200 balance? Since each neighbor caused $500 worth of damage, perhaps the discounted price is to be credited to Alan.  

How should the Bet Din rule and why?  

 

Torah Law 

According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, one who inflicts damage is liable to compensate the victim for his loss incurred. In instances in which the item damaged can be repaired, it is the responsibility of the offender to provide payment for the cost of repairs.  

Leading halachic authorities dispute the precise definition of an offender’s monetary obligation in case of repairs. Is the monetary obligation an immediate one, thereby the price is fixed according to the cost at the time of damage? Or perhaps the obligation is to correct the damaged item, resulting in a price fixed according to the cost at the time of repairs? The obvious legal ramification that emerges from this dispute is a price change in the cost of repairs between the time of the accident and the time of the repair. Hence, if the cost of repairs fluctuates due to either an appreciation or depreciation in the market between the time of the accident and the time of repair, the two aforementioned opinions rule in contradiction.  

In instances in which the price is reduced after the time of the accident due to an external factor, it is arguable whether the two aforementioned opinions differ. Although the original cost of damage at the time of the accident was seemingly higher, nevertheless, a subsequent reduction in price may reflect the true cost of damage at the time of the accident. This is particularly accurate in instances in which the repair of two consecutive accidents causes the total price to be cheaper. Since the charge for the second repair is only cheaper because it weaned off the payment of the first, it stands to reason that the cost of repairs of the first repair is inherently cheaper. In essence, the payment of the second repair is merely an additional charge for parts, after the first repair already covered the cost of labor and operating expenses. Therefore, even the opinion that determines liability based the cost of repairs at the time of an accident, may agree in certain instances to determine liability based on the time of repairs.  

Furthermore, the custom practiced by nearly all contemporary rabbinical courts is in accordance with the latter opinion, basing liability on the cost at the time of repairs. A Bet Din will not impose liability unless a bill or appraisal estimating the cost of repairs is submitted by the victim. Hence, in instances in which a second accident cheapens the price of a first by sharing the cost of labor between them, the reduction is to be divided proportionally.   

As a general rule, a Bet Din will not impose an unwarranted payment even if a violator is liable for damages.  Hence, repairing the same car at two different garages in order to inflate the cost of repairs is unacceptable. Although a victim may have the legal right to request that an authorized dealer using original parts repair his car, he may not claim the right to service his car by two dealers with the intent of only using one in order to earn a profit. 

 

 VERDICT:  Let the Sunshine In     

The Bet Din ruled that Sari and Jacklyn were to equally share the cost of repairs, each liable for $400. As mentioned in Torah law, the common practice of rabbinical courts is to determine the amount of liability according to its cost at the time of repairs. Since the damage inflicted by the two neighbors was identical and at the time of repairs the total cost was $800, they each bear equal liability. Furthermore, the only reason Jacklyn’s damage was estimated at an additional $300, was due to Sari’s required payment for the total cost of labor. Since the repair of Jacklyn’s accident was only cheaper due to Sari’s payment, it stands to reason that they are to share the expense equally. After all, Jacklyn’s payment was only cheaper because she weaned off Sari’s payment, which already covered the operating expenses and the labor. The Bet Din rejected Alan’s claim to charge each of his neighbors $500, since he is not permitted to inflate the price of repairs in order to earn a profit.  By Torah law, although Alex maintains the right to request an authorized dealer who uses original parts to repair his car, he may not impose that the car be repaired by two different dealers simply to generate a profit. The three neighbors were all happy the winter was finally over, and were committed to a bright, sunny relationship going forward.                                                                                         

In Loving Memory of Vera Bat Carol, A”H 

YOU BE THE JUDGE 

Pre-Passover Slavery 

Alex was hired to manage an Italian restaurant, scheduled to open three weeks before the Passover holiday. Danny, his boss, conscientiously arranged for all the necessary details to ensure punctuality, but was having difficulty finding workers, due to a shortage of employees during the high season. On opening day, it was evident that the restaurant was understaffed, but Danny reassured Alex that he would hire at least two more employees by the next morning.  For the next three weeks Danny was unable to find competent additional employees, and the workload fell on the shoulders of Alex, the store manager. Although Alex complained daily that the pressure was unbearable, Danny encouraged him to continue, constantly reassuring him that help was on the way.  By the end of three weeks, Alex was fit to be tied, and insisted that Danny double his salary for that period. Although they had agreed on a $1,500 a week salary, due to the unforeseen employee shortage, Alex felt he was entitled to an additional $4,500 for his efforts. Danny rejected Alex’s claim, and explained that Alex was hired to manage the store, which included the pre-Passover season. Clearly shorthanded, Alex obviously worked harder than expected. He was nevertheless not given any specific chores that a manager does not sometimes assume.  

How should the Bet Din rule? Is Alex entitled to an increase in salary, or perhaps Danny is exempt from additional payment, and why