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Shabbat Parashat Vaiera 5777

P'ninat Mishpat: Connection between a Leak and a Broken Washing Machine

(based on ruling 73016 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl), who lives underneath the defendant (=def), had problems with his washing machine, causing the circuit breaker to fall several times over several months. A few months into this period of time, pl noticed moisture in the wall near the electric socket to which the washing machine was plugged in, coming from a leak from def’s apartment. Def had the leak fixed within a reasonable amount of time. When the washing machine continued to give problems after the leak was fixed, pl ordered a technician, who said that the machine’s electric card had been ruined. The technician explained and wrote on the receipt that the cause of the problem was moisture in the wall. Pl is suing def for 1,000 shekels in repairs. Def does not think he is responsible for the damage but offers 250 shekels as a compromise. Pl rejects the offer and wants payment based on strict law.

 

Ruling: No one saw moisture from def’s apartment damage pl’s washing machine. Rather, only with the use of circumstantial evidence might one be able to connect the two. Generally, we do not extract money based on such evidence (Rambam, Nizkei Mamon 8:14), unless the connection is unusually compelling in a way that there are no viable alternatives. For slightly weaker claims, there can still be a moral obligation to pay, which beit din can translate into grounds for a compromise (see Beit Yitzchak, Yoreh Deah II:114).

In this case, pl did not meet the necessary level of evidence. The lack of synchronization between the signs of a leak and the problems with the washing machine are telling. True, pl, a single man who often has his laundry done elsewhere, explained that he barely used the machine after the leak was discovered. (Ed. note - The ruling presents some technical facts on the topic of damage to electrical appliances due to electrical current problems, but we will skip them.) Even so, there are many things that can cause a change in currents that could damage the electric card. Pl has no way of proving that another such an event did not happen during the few months over which the problems were playing out.

The “testimony” of the technician is of little importance. He was partial, having being paid by pl, and the unusual form of testimony, a comment on a receipt of payment, without any interrogation in beit din, leads much to be desired as evidence.

Regarding the possibility of compromise, one reason for it is when a litigant would be in need of making an oath in order to support his position. While a claim by a plaintiff can be enough for such an oath, there could not be grounds for an oath in this case because we view pl’s claim as one based on doubt. Even though pl views his claim as definite, he cannot know that the water caused the problems. Furthermore, def has no reason to swear since the disagreement is not about disputing facts known to the parties.

Therefore, there are neither grounds for extracting money based on proof nor even based on compromise, and def is exempt.

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