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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah 5773

P'ninat Mishpat: Late Return of Flawed Furniture part I

(from Hemdat Mishpat, rulings of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case:   In January ’08, a shul (=pl) received delivery of tables and corresponding benches of various sizes from a furniture company (=def). In August ’08 they received another order from def. Pl now (’10) complains that the legs of one size of table do not line up properly with the benches so that two people have to sit with one foot outside the table. Pl claim that it took some time to uncover the problem but when they did, they tried in a few ways to contact def’s sales representative, but he did not get back to them. After quite some time, a representative came to check the matter, but def is unwilling to take responsibility. Pl wants def to take back the tables and replace them at def’s expense. Def says that the tables are standard and that there have not been other complaints. In any case, def claims, since it took pl two years to complain (while payments continued), def should not have to take back unusable, used merchandise.


Ruling:   Beit din had the furniture measured, and this indicated that there is less leg space at the tables than at the benches. Beit din’s representative went to confirm that this causes seating to be somewhat uncomfortable. In two other shuls in the area, where def told beit din that they have sold merchandise, the legs of the tables were done properly. The Rambam (Mechira 15:6) says that what is considered a flaw in a sales object depends on the society’s standards. By modern standards, such merchandise is unacceptable.

The question, then, is about the promptness of pl’s complaints. While pl spoke generally about informing def of the problem, they do not have specific details about whom they spoke to and when, prior to an official letter to def that was dated almost two years after delivery of the tables. Even if they turned to def much earlier, it still was apparently not near the time of the sale, as def made another order of furniture some six months after the one in question. It is hard to believe that pl would have made a new order during a time that their complaints over a serious flaw in the original merchandise went unanswered. While it may take longer for a public client to deal seriously with problems than it would a private one, six months should have been plenty time for complaints to have been lodged. Apparently, then, the people in charge at pl did not feel it was important enough to immediately register an official complaint.

[Next week we will deal with the sources on delayed complaint on flaws.] In the final analysis, according to the letter of the law, pl cannot demand new merchandise. However, based on the authority to impose peshara, beit din obligates def to enable pl to order replacement tables at 20% off the regular price (which it had submitted to beit din). Def should deliver the new furniture for free at a time that can be worked out when they are making another delivery within the general vicinity.

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