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Shabbat Parashat Bechukotai 5776

Pninat Mishpat: Damages from Water Pressure

(ruling 74043 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) is an agricultural company located in a moshav (=def), which is a go-between pl and Mekorot (the water utility). In the summer of 2007, Mekorot doubled the water pressure to def, shortly after pl planted 60 dunams of grape vines (at a cost of appr. 1,000,000 shekels, including installation of a sprinkling system). The system could not handle the increased water pressure, causing serious leaks. The cost of fixing the system and paying for lost water was 30,000 shekels. Pl blames def for not informing them about the change in pressure, which pl claims is def’s responsibility as the liaison between Mekorot and the farmers. Def claims that they are just a funnel for payment, and that in any case, Mekorot did not inform def. (Pl claims that def should have received notice.) During negotiations between the sides with the involvement of Mr. A, pl was told that the regional council would pay for half of the damages, which they ultimately did not do. There is a dispute whether this indicates that def accepted that pl should be compensated, which def should then carry out, explaining why pl is demanding 15,000 shekels from def. Mr. A testified that the regional council agreed to pay half, which sufficed for pl, and there was not discussion about a case in which they would not carry it out, but Mr. A reasons that def should pay in that case.

 

Ruling: It is not possible to obligate def based on the rules of direct damages because it was actually pl who directly caused the damage when it operated the sprinkling system.

Sometimes one can be obligated for indirect damage when he caused his friend to rely upon him and then did not act as he promised. One example is when Reuven tells Shimon to travel to a court for adjudication and then Reuven himself did not come (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 14:5). In our case, one should be able to rely on having water provided in a manner that will not cause damages. Thus, if pl sued Mekorot, they would have a strong case, especially here, when after planting the vine saplings, they need to water the vineyard promptly. Even after seeing there was damage, pl still did the right thing by continuing to water the vines, in order to prevent the greater loss of the vines dying.

However, def only accepted upon itself to help in arrangements with Mekorot. In the meantime, they are doing their part by agreeing to cooperate if pl sues Mekorot. It was also def’s responsibility to pass on communication from Mekorot. However, they deny having received such communication. Furthermore, pl does not claim to know that def received notification; pl just (reasonably) assumes it. Therefore, there are insufficient grounds to obligate def.

Regarding what was said during negotiations, def was aware that the plan was for the Regional Council to pay for half the damages. However, there is no evidence that def accepted upon itself to ensure that pl would receive such a sum. The fact that Mr. A thinks that this is the correct thing to do is a matter of his judgment, not of testimony.

Therefore, pl’s claim is rejected.

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