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Shabbat Parashat Miketz 5777

P'ninat Mishpat: Responsibility for Electricity Infrastructure part III

(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/pl 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. After the last, they claimed mortal danger and demanded redoing the electricity closet, with a threat of otherwise 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 that def’s infrastructure was sufficient before beginning work. At the time the agreement was signed, pl, which is in the field and met with IEC, were aware of the expense, while def were 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: [We saw last time that def could have backed out of the agreement with pl when IEC rejected the electricity infrastructure.]

Can we learn anything from def’s agreement to have the work done? This is not an indication that they agreed to pay for repairs. On the contrary, they refused to pay anything up front, although they knew they might be obligated by beit din later. However, the fact that they appointed a representative to follow the progress of the repairs and during that period they did not complain about the extent of the work showed that they viewed the actions taken as reasonable. In fact, the representative said that cheaper alternatives were rejected as untenable.

While they did not agree to pay, def’s benefit from the work (neheneh) is a reason to obligate them to pay accordingly. Halacha distinguishes between cases where this was done with or without permission. With permission, the recipient of benefit has to pay the higher between the going price of the work and the expenses in practice (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 375:4). However, in this case, when def refused to pay for any more than they will be forced, they do not have to pay the going rate, and they have to pay only according to the benefit they received.

It appears that if not for pl’s needs, def could have managed with lesser repairs. The fact that def were and are considering stopping the bulk supply system is a factor in lowering the appraisal of benefit from the long-term improvements. Thus, if def will have to pay the entire price of repairs, they will not have gained from the deal with pl.   

With everything considered, beit din obligates def to pay 75,000 shekels out of a total repair cost of 134,800 shekels.

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