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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5778

P'ninat Mishpat: Overdoing the Repairs?

(based on ruling 76030 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def) backed his car into the plaintiff’s (=pl) car in a supermarket parking lot. Def apologized, agreed to pay 200 shekels, and refused to give pl his insurance information. Pl went to his auto dealership and received an estimate (2,940 shekels), after a professional appraisal (which cost 649 shekels) to do body work on the fender and paintwork on it and the adjacent door. Def said it was too expensive and told him to use a cheaper garage, but pl kept to his plan. Pl is also claiming 2,046 shekels for depreciation of the car (according to the appraiser) and compensation for missed work. Def now suggests that pl might have moved his car dangerously, which could have caused the accident. He also questions whether the damage to the door was not pre-existing and, either way, refuses to pay for painting the whole door, when only part of it was damaged.


Ruling: Regarding responsibility for the collision, pl is making a definite claim (bari) that his engine was not even on before the collision, and def is making a possible claim (shema) that pl was equally guilty. Even so, one cannot extract payment based on a bari vs. a shema claim (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 75:9). However, the fact that def made this claim only in passing (he focused on the cost of the repairs) and the fact that he admits that he offered to pay at the time of the accident, make it apparent that he is aware that he caused the accident.  

We can learn from discussion of other examples of fixing damage (see Shulchan Aruch, CM 420:21-22) that a person has the right to a quality repair job. It is also appropriate that pl receive the same level of repair that def’s insurance company would have given (he admits that he had insurance coverage for this damage). This is not as a penalty to def for illegally withholding his insurance information but mainly because that refusal was tantamount to assuring pl that he would cover payment in place of the insurance. Using an appraiser and pl’s dealership is in line with standard insurance practice. It also shows that this is what society sees as a normal repair job, as rulings of the general court system also indicate. If pl himself was not usually in the practice of seeking such expensive service when he was paying himself, it might be different, but pl presented documentation that he used the dealership himself.

There are two ways to compensate for damage: paying depreciation; paying for repair. When it is possible/feasible, Halacha prefers repair (Shach, CM 387:1). However, if there is still depreciation even after the repair, that has to be paid as well.

Does def have to pay to paint the entire door, when only a small part of it was damaged, so as to avoid an unseemly change in color? Although painting the rest of the door seems like payment for indirect damage, since it is not possible to properly fix the damaged part without painting the whole door, this is considered fixing the door and is required. As above, it is significant that this is the standard way insurance companies and the courts treat such damages.
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