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Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5776

Pninat Mishpat: Compensating a Cellphone Owner for Damage Caused During a Repair Attempt

(based on Beit Din Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Archives Case 75004)

[For the last two years, we have been presenting historical dinei Torah, as found in responsa literature. We now return to our beit din’s files to explore contemporary cases that we have adjudicated.]

 

Case:  The plaintiff (=pl) bought an i-Phone abroad, spending 2,800 shekels. After a few months, the owner damaged the phone’s display. He took it to the defendant (=def), a cellphone repair lab. When pl received it back from def, the phone did not work at all. Pl took the phone to the importer, who determined that a piece connected to the screen was missing. Pl then sent it to the US, where someone fixed the screen for $125. Now, though, one cannot hear the person to whom he is speaking. Pl is demanding 2,800 shekels for the no-longer-viable phone, plus 550 shekels for money wasted trying to fix it. (Def did not charge pl for their attempted repair.) Def acknowledges it is possible that they lost a piece from the screen, but claims that regarding the hearing problem, it is just as likely that one of the others who tried to fix it damaged it. Def also says that pl’s numbers are exaggerated. A working used phone of this model costs appr. 1,200 shekels; the phone in question, which is salvageable is worth appr. 800 shekels. An imported new phone now costs 2,000 shekels. In court, def offered, for the first time, to pay 2,000 shekels, or to give a new phone of this type and receive the broken phone. Pl refused the offer.

 

Ruling:  The Rambam (Chovel 7:15, based on Bava Kama 11a) states that when one damages his counterpart’s object, he has to pay the difference between its value right before and after the damage. In this case, the starting value of the phone was not 2,800 shekels but the price of a used, partially damaged phone, and the finishing value is that of a more severely damaged phone.

Sometimes, there is logic for the damager to pay for fixing the object rather than just pay for depreciation. The Chazon Ish (Bava Kama 6:3) says that this applies to objects that are not slated to be sold but to be fixed. It certainly, though, does not make sense to charge both for the value of the phone and for the expense of fixing it. In any case, since the price to fully fix the phone is unknown, it is feasible only to estimate the damage to it. As such, def is not obligated in the 550 shekels.

It does not make sense to have an expert give his appraisal of the price depreciation because the cost of the expert is unjustified in a case with a relatively small amount of money to be determined. Readily available information indicates that second hand i-Phones in good working order cost 1,200-1,500 shekels. We estimate that the depreciation due to the mistake def likely made is 700 shekels.

However, this seems to be unnecessary because in beit din, def offered to give pl enough money to buy a new phone if he gets to keep the old one. Considering that we have rejected the full scope of pl’s claim, there is no logic for pl to reject this offer, enabling him to have a phone that is no worse than what his old one would have been after proper fixing.

Because def did not make any such offers to pl before coming to beit din, def has to reimburse pl for the beit din fee.
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