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CASE 134: Shattered!
A hot Shabbat meal, an accepting aura, and a pervasive love of humanity brought hundreds of university students, yeshiva fellows, families of hospital patients and curious onlookers to the Goodman home in Boston, Massachusetts.
A Goodman Shabbat experience was indeed one of a kind. Jerry's melodious voice and Lisa's mouth-watering cuisine left behind a flavor hard to forget. Dozens of guests from all walks of life would join together for an evening of love, song, inspiration, good food and a sense of purpose.
Jerry and Lisa left no stone unturned to fulfill the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim [Genesis 18:1, Maseches: Shabbos 127b], welcoming wayfarers in a most magnanimous, humble, and friendly manner. [Ahavas Chesed 3:1]
In time, the Goodmans needed to add an additional table in their dining room to accommodate the growing crowd.
One Wednesday, Jerry read online that a Mike Gerber was selling a used glass dining room table and matching chairs for three-hundred dollars. Jerry and Lisa drove their van over to Mike's house to view the table. The stunning table seemed like the perfect buy. It was large enough to fit another dozen guests comfortably. Lisa loved the table's style as it fit perfectly with her dining room décor. Moreover, she took an exceptional liking to the chairs because they were extremely comfortable and great for back posture.
Before agreeing to buy the set, Jerry asked Mike if the glass was attached to the table. Mike assured Jerry that it was indeed attached. Jerry looked at Lisa for her approval and Lisa winked in the affirmative. Jerry accepted the offer and handed Mike three crisp hundred-dollar bills.
Jerry and Lisa then brought the chairs out of the house and placed them in their van parked in Mike's driveway. While Lisa held the door open, Jerry and Mike began carrying the table to the front door with care and precision. As they neared the door, they tilted the table sideways so that it would fit through the door. Suddenly, they felt the weight rapidly shift as he glass top fell off the frame, broke the antique umbrella stand by the door, and exploded into countless shards on Mike's floor.
Looking over the remains of the table, it was clear that the top had simply been a heavy pane of glass resting on four suction cups attached to the wrought iron frame.
- What is the status of the sale of the table and chairs? Does Jerry receive a refund? If so, how much?
- Does Jerry share responsibility for any of the damage that occurred to the table or the umbrella stand?
What is the law?
[Based on a true story - Submitted by Judah Spetner – Member, Cincinnati Community Kollel – Cincinnati, OH]
Please email us with your comments and answers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read next week's issue for the answer!
LAST WEEK'S CASE
CASE 133: The Red Wedding Gown
The most popular staff member on the university campus in the Upper Galilee was none other than Linda – the baker. She left to the United States for two-weeks to visit her mother, Mrs. Bloom, in Evanston, Illinois. Linda scheduled her trip so that she could return to Israel on Monday, two days before the wedding of her sister-in-law, Sheila.
Sheila had ordered a custom-made wedding gown from the USA and asked Linda if she would mind bringing the gown back with her. Linda was only overjoyed to provide Sheila with this service. In addition, the school was in need of baking equipment, including some heavy rolling pins, which Linda purchased with university funds.
Linda laid out her clothes, the gown in its plastic suit bag, the baking equipment, and a jar of Heinz™ barbeque sauce that she had purchased for herself. Mrs. Bloom had a knack for packing, so she gladly packed up Linda's two suitcases. Linda relied on her mother's expertise and took the baggage without checking her mother's work.
Linda checked in at O'Hare International Airport and boarded the plane. Already on the tarmac, the plane was called back due to security concerns. The flight was postponed and Linda spent the night at an airport hotel. The rest of the trip was uneventful. Linda's flight departed the next day and arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday evening, a day and a half before the wedding.
However, when she came home and opened her suitcase, she was horrified by what she saw. The front of Sheila's gown was white no more! The rolling pins had punctured the barbeque sauce. Red barbeque sauce had seeped through the zipper of the suit bag and heavily stained the front of Sheila's gown.
The local dry cleaners had already closed for the day, so Linda brought the gown in first thing in the morning. “Please have the gown ready this afternoon,” she begged. “The wedding is tomorrow morning.”
“If you would have brought it in yesterday we could have done it for you at the regular price,” responded the manager. “We can do a ‘rush job' today, but it will cost you double.”
- Who pays for the cleaning job?
- Who pays for the additional cost of the “rush job”?
What is the law?
[Based on a true story - Submitted by Mrs. A.K. dorm mother, Jerusalem]
We present you here with a concise ruling. For a more intricate elucidation, please see the “detailed explanation” below.
If Linda was negligent in relying on her mother's packing, she is responsible – provided Sheila would not have anyhow sent her gown for pressing. Otherwise, she is not liable.
Mrs. Bloom is liable only if she packed the contents in such a manner that the damage was highly likely to occur.
Linda is not responsible to pay for the additional cost of the rush job.
Case 133 is an example of a “bailment”. In determining whether a bailee is liable for damages incurred to the property, we must a) define the nature of the bailment and b) assess the cause of the damage. The Torah qualifies four types of bailees, each with a varied degree of liability – see Fellow Weekly Issue 24 for a full list of bailee types and protocols (for a copy of any previous issue, please email email@example.com with your request).
Linda took responsibility to care for the gown gratis and receives no tangible benefit from it. She is therefore a “gratuitous bailee” (also known as an “unpaid guard”). While a gratuitous bailee does accept responsibility to guard the property (a negligent bailee is not a bailee), nevertheless a free service is performed with no allowance for making personal use of the property. [Sha"ch - Choshen Mishpat 72:29] Thus, the bailee assumes minimal responsibility for loss or damage of the property in question and is obligated to pay only for damage or loss of the bailment that occurs due to negligence on her part. [Exodus 25:7]
As Mrs. Bloom was an expert packer and the gown was in its suit bag, we can assume Linda was not negligent in her responsibilities. She is not obligated to double-check the work. She may assume that her mother would take the accepted packing precautions under the circumstances. Accordingly, Linda is not liable for the subsequent damages incurred.
However, if Mrs. Bloom was not in fact the “expert-packer” she liked to believe she was, giving Linda reason to double-check the work, then failing to do so might display negligence on her part and she would accordingly be liable for damages incurred (see below for how to assess damage value).
Mrs. Bloom never accepted upon herself guardian responsibilities. She performed a simple favor for Linda. She, like anyone else, is legally liable for unforeseen damages that she directly causes to a third party's article. [Choshen Mishpat 378:1] For our purposes, damage very likely to occur is considered direct. [Nesivos HaMishpat 291]
Like any stranger, Mrs. Bloom is not liable for indirect damages incurred to the article even due to her active negligence. [Choshen Mishpat ibid Sha"ch 6] (See Issue 29)
If Mrs. Bloom packed responsibly, she is clearly not liable for the subsequent damages. Even if she was negligent in her packing, she was not a bailee and we can obligate her only for direct damages she caused to the article.
If she packed the jar in such a precarious way that it was highly likely to break and cause damage to the gown en route, then she essentially placed Sheila's gown in a position of almost certain damage. There is room to consider this direct damage and she would be duly responsible (in such a case, a competent authority should be consulted). If the damage was not very likely to occur, it would be considered indirect damage and she is absolved from paying. [Choshen Mishpat 386]
For argument's sake, let us assume that the damage was indirect and not highly likely to occur. Indeed, people often carry jars in their suitcase and generally do not experience a mishap (for otherwise they would not take the risk of damaging their wardrobe for the small amount they save by not having to purchase such an imported product overseas).
Accordingly, we would absolve Mrs. Bloom whether or not she should have packed in a more responsible fashion. We would likewise absolve Linda if she responsibly relied on her mother's expertise. We would obligate Linda only if she knew that her mother was not the expert-packer she claimed to be.
In the event that Linda was indeed negligent for relying on her mother's work; how would we asses her financial responsibilities?
Unless local custom differs (e.g. insurance policies), damages are assessed by the depreciation of the entire article. [Minchas Yitzchak 3: Responsa 126] If the cost of proper repair is less than the depreciation value, the damage value is the cost of the repair. [Chazon Ish: Maseches: Bava Kama 6:3]
The repair cost of the stained gown is the cleaning fee. Say cleaning a gown costs $30, while the rush job costs $60. The damage is assessed at $30. The fact that the owner wishes a rush job is an outside factor. This deems the extra cost indirect. While Linda would be liable for indirect damage to the property due to her negligence, she is not liable for additional indirect costs incurred because of the mishap.
Finally, it may be noteworthy to point out that if Sheila would have anyhow sent her gown to be pressed before the wedding, the cost of the pressing would be deducted from the cleaning costs that Linda is responsible to pay for, as Sheila would have had to pay this money in either case.
[Answered by Rabbi Yitzchak Boehm, Halachic Advisor –Fellow-Yesharim Research Center]
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Although we aim to present the correct ruling, varying details are always important and decisively influence every individual case. Our readers are thus encouraged to present their personal cases to a competent authority and not solely rely on the information provided.
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