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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash 5780

P'ninat Mishpat: Questionable Responsibility for Anothers Property

(based on ruling 76037 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) sublet the apartment he had rented long-term to the defendants (=def) in April 2013. Their sublet contract mentioned taking responsibility for items that pl left there and that def should inform pl a month before they move out. In August 2014, def moved and arranged with pl that furniture would be taken to their new apartment. In June 2015, def moved again, after having lost contact with pl and being unable to find his contact information. Def moved pl’s belongings to storage and informed pl only a month later. Pl claimed that much of the property had been damaged and that he had to pay for taking things from storage and is suing def 18,000 shekels for negligence. Def claim that little damage was due to their negligence and that most of the items were in disrepair when they entered the apartment. Also, they claim to have taken responsibility for only some of the items left behind, and they estimate the total starting value of those items at approximately 3,000 shekels. Def countersues 1,200 shekels for the expenses of paying for storage and moving costs to the storage location.    

 

Ruling: One of the major rules of monetary law is that one who wants to extract money has to bring proof for their claim. In this case, the language of the contract does not conclusively indicate for how many items def accepted responsibility. There is also no proof that def was responsible for the damage that did occur or that they did not choose a reasonable solution of storage. [It is clear that def had every interest to try to contact pl before moving, and] it is hard to discount their claim that their failure was based on factors beyond their control. Since the amount of actual damage is apparently small and pl received 2,500 shekels of compensation for damages from a third party, we do not find it necessary to give pl more money than that by means of compromise.   

On the other hand, we will factor in the lack of proof in the other direction as well. If def did everything the best way they could have, they deserve reimbursement for spending 1,200 shekels to store pl’s items. However, since it is not clear if they did so and how much the extent of their obligation to watch pl’s property was, they will not be able to receive that money back from pl based on doubt.

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