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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach 5777

P'ninat Mishpat: Responsibility for Electricity Infrastructure part I

(based on ruling 73056 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl), a company that produces electricity for the electric company (=IEC) from solar panels, rented rooftops to place the panels from the defendant (=def), a settlement. Def supplies electricity for their residents through bulk supply (the electric company is not connected to each home). The same electricity room and closet transfers electricity both ways between def and IEC. The involvement of IEC made it necessary to begin work before the contract was complete. IEC carried out three inspections of the electricity room, the last of which claimed mortal danger and demanded redoing the electricity closet with a threat of rejecting pl’s project and shutting down def’s electricity. Pl and def disagreed as to who should be responsible for the renovations, and it was decided that pl would perform them, and beit din would rule on possible reimbursement. Pl claims that their agreement requires def to provide electrical infrastructure and that def knew this was expected to include layouts of money. Def also benefitted from the replacement of their very dangerous electrical room with a quality one at an under-market price. Def claims that pl should have checked before beginning work that def’s infrastructure was sufficient. At the time the agreement was signed, pl, which is in the field and met with IEC, were aware of the expense, while def was not. The improvements are not particularly beneficial for them, as def is in the process of phasing out the bulk supply system and will not need the electrical room. Therefore, the deal, as pl presents it, is unprofitable for def, and they would not have agreed to it.

 

Ruling: First, we must clarify our viewpoint on factual matters that the sides disputed, after four hearings, a visit to the site, and several professional witnesses presented by the sides. On some of the points, it was impossible to come to exact findings but to clear directions that serve as a basis for a proper compromise. [We will present only findings, not the testimonies and analysis upon which they were based.]

The electrical closet was in a reasonable enough state to pass IEC’s first inspection without major condemnation and the second inspection with only moderate recommendations. Only the third inspection, after the agreement was signed, included IEC’s ultimatums. It seems that there was not severe immediate danger, but that the situation was problematic enough that it was not responsible to rely upon it when embarking on a new, long-term project.

Pl, due to its expertise with electrical systems and its more direct contact with IEC, was significantly more aware of the extent of required outlays on the infrastructure to complete the project, even though they too were not aware of the full extent. That strengthens the claim that the contract should not be applied in a maximalist manner, as a broad obligation accepted by def for any appropriate expenses.

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