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Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5778

P'ninat Mishpat: Responsibility for a Collision

(based on ruling 70065 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The cars of the plaintiff (=pl) and the defendant (=def) collided on a narrow road, with the back of def’s car breaking one of pl’s headlights and sustaining its own damage. According to pl and his son, who was driving under his father’s tutelage, they were on the correct side of the dividing line, and def was just over it. Def admits that he had been over the line but corrected it and was able to see from his rear-view mirror, at the moment of impact, that the collision happened on the line. At the time of the event, def agreed to pay for pl’s damage, to settle the matter amicably despite his lack of culpability. When pl told him that the estimate was for 2400 shekels, he refused to pay any more than 300 shekels. Def argues that since pl continued the suit, he will make a claim on the damage to his car.


Ruling: Neither side has hard evidence that their account is more accurate. Does def’s original willingness to pay obligate him? Def never admitted culpability. His assertion of willingness to pay without a kinyan to that effect is not binding, just as a pledge to give a present is not (see Choshen Mishpat 40 and 60). While it is proper to keep one’s pledge, it is not binding. Furthermore, the pledge should not apply if he claims reasonably that he only agreed when he thought the amount was much less.

Even the pledge in front of beit din to pay 300 shekels is not binding.  While the Nimukei Yosef says that a concession in front of beit din to certain rules of adjudication is binding without a kinyan, the Shach (CM 22:1) rules that a kinyan is required.

Although there is no evidence, since the arbitration agreement empowers beit din to rule according to compromise, beit din can incorporate incomplete proofs and indications. Def admits that he was over the line soon before the accident, whereas pl and his son are adamant that they were in lane the whole time. It is possible to get back into lane. However, after visiting the accident site, beit din notes the following. Def was in the middle of a curve in the road, which made it difficult to correct his position. His ability to see pl’s car in advance was much less than pl’s ability to see def’s. It is also very difficult to imagine def being able to see clearly from his rear-view mirror at the moment of the collision.

Furthermore, def’s willingness, at the accident scene, to pay is a reasonably strong indication that he realized he was at fault. Considering that damage to his car was greater, it does not make sense that he should be so forthcoming. Also, the fact that only now def is asking for damages to his car implies that there was either an admission of sorts of his responsibility or mechilla of his right to claim damages from pl. Based on all the above, we hold def responsible to pay.

On the other hand, def does not have to pay the full claim. First of all, the estimate pl brought is too high; also, he only has a right to a used headlight, like the one that was destroyed. Finally, since the decision is based on partial evidence and on compromise, we award him only 80% of the payment otherwise due. In total, def owes pl 688 shekels.  

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