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Shabbat Parashat Miketz 5780

P'ninat Mishpat: Delays of a Contractor part II

(based on ruling 76045 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def), a company that bought a property, hired the plaintiff (=pl), a metal worker, to build there a light-material warehouse, which they rented out to a business (=re), which would start paying when the warehouse was ready. The work contract, for 260,000 shekels, was signed on July 8 and states that pl is to finish within a month and a half. Def gave pl a down payment check of 100,000 shekels, but it bounced and was replaced two weeks later. The work could not start until someone else built cement foundations, which occurred on Sept. 9. Pl finished the work only on Dec. 14. Pl demands that def finish the payments (76,361 shekels) and pay for improvements requested after the contract was made (4,000 shekels). Def is countersuing because pl finished the job late, which cost them lost rent (30,000 shekels). Also, pl refused to work when def’s subcontractors had Arab workers at the site. This threat forced def to spend more money on workers. Pl says that this was necessary because of a recent spate of terrorist attacks. 


Ruling: Regarding as of when pl should have finished the job, although the contract stated a month and a half from the time of the agreement, both agreed that they meant from the time it was possible to work. The pouring of cement was on Sept. 9, and pl claims that it requires two weeks to dry; def says it takes less time. There is no need to hire an expert to decide, because this juncture was anyway too early to start counting for a different reason. Since def’s check for down payment bounced, he could not demand of pl to start working. Even if def’s claim, that pl was busy with a different job, is correct, pl cannot be expected to not work elsewhere when def was effectively not paying him. Therefore we “start the clock” only from Sept. 21, when the payment finally went through.

Once this time of year came, pl is correct that days can be taken off for the chagim and then for rainy days. Since pl is a religious man, he is allowed to take off erev Yom Tov without consequence, even if most people in the market do work then. Pl claims additional days because of work that re asked him to do, which def agreed to. We reject accept def’s claim that this should be on the time of pl because re’s request that def approved is considered like def’s request.

Therefore, the amount of time that pl was late according to the contract is 15 days, and they are required to compensate def 9,000 shekels for rent not received. There were further adjustments based on the fact that pl did not finish all the work required, based on which pl has only 40,515 shekels coming to him. 

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