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Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha 5778

P'ninat Mishpat: Responsibility for Car Engines Damage

(based on ruling 72121 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: A catering business (=pl) that is peripherally related to a garin torani (group that runs social and religious programs in an underdeveloped community) owns a business car. They lent it to the defendant (=def), a garin member, who was asked to go buy a present for the garin head. Reuven went with def and drove the car, as he often does for garin needs. Along the way, the car’s speed decreased, and it started making funny noises. Def and Reuven thought they understood the problem and that they could continue driving, which they did. This turned out damaging the engine, which had to be replaced at a cost of 9,500 shekels. Given the cooperation between all the above, who is responsible to pay for the damages?       

 

Ruling: According to an expert on cars, there were two stages to the damage. First, the turbo broke with no warning. That damage was meita machamat melacha (occurred in the course of its work), for which a sho’el (borrower) is exempt. However, Reuven and def should have stopped at that point, and the second stage of damage, to the whole engine, happened due to negligence, for which a sho’el is obligated to pay, as is a person who actually caused the damage.

Under the described circumstances, the sho’el is the garin as a whole, who wanted a service done; def and Reuven acted as their representatives. Reuven, who drove, is obligated as one who damaged. Def, who accepted responsibility for the car on the garin’s behalf and together with Reuven, decided to continue driving, should be seen as one who agreed to be a guarantor in the case of damage. Thus, payment could be taken from either Reuven or def (see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 79:1). The Shach (ad loc. 1) says that if two agree to watch something together and one of them was negligent, the one who was negligent has the primary obligation, but the owner can take payment even from the other watchman, who in turn can demand reimbursement from the one who was negligent. In our case, def is more obligated than the above second watchman because he was an active participant in the decisions.

Is the whole garin responsible as the one under whose auspices this all occurred? The Shulchan Aruch (CM 309:4) rules that if one rented plowing tools, which his workers used improperly and damaged them, the owner should sue the workers (in our case, Reuven/def). However, there the workers were acting on their own account to earn a living, whereas in this case, def and Reuven were doing a favor for the garin. Therefore, pl can demand payment from the garin as well, who then can demand reimbursement from Reuven/def.

The amount to be paid is not 9,500 shekels, as even before the negligence, the car already needed serious work. Fixing the turbo costs approximately 3,000 shekels, although the percentage of that expense in relation to the total cost of repair is lower. Therefore, we estimate that the total payment due is 7,500 shekels.

The above is the halacha. The sides asked what the most equitable break-up of responsibility is. Since def/Reuven were acting as a favor for the garin, it seems that their main obligation should be as members of the garin, just that they should pay at a somewhat higher rate than the others due to their negligence.

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