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Shabbat Parashat Vaeira 5780

P'ninat Mishpat: Dont Let the Bedbugs Bite part III

(based on ruling 78030 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) ran group tours that, one Shabbat, used the defendant’s guest house (=def). Over Shabbat, pl felt bites but assumed they were from mosquito. When the symptoms recurred at home and she discussed the matter with group members and def, who also were suffering, she figured out that she brought bedbugs home from def. Def sent an exterminator to pl’s house, but their one-time treatment did not help def (it helped other group members). Def entered a grueling three-month extermination regimen, which solved their problem. Pl ended up throwing out all of their bedroom furniture. Pl is suing for: the value of the discarded furniture (30,000 shekels); expenses of massive washing and drying of fabrics, including damage to the washer and dryer (7,000 shekels); buying new temporary (out of fear of recurrence) furniture (15,000 shekels); distress (10,000 shekels). Def responded that it was possible that someone in the group brought the bedbugs to def (they did not have problems before and did have afterward). Def argued that they were not at all negligent and paid for an exterminator for all involved beyond the letter of the law. (Def has insurance for the claims but relinquished their rights to them by adjudicating in beit din instead of secular court.)


Ruling: We saw that it is quite clear that the bedbugs came from def.

 According to Halacha, def’s claim that the infestation was not their fault is complicated. On some level, it is an oness (difficult to prevent), which even a paid watchman is exempt for. However, since they could have checked the premises between usage, it may not be a full oness, which would be necessary. This would be relevant only for direct damage and not for the variety of damages that came about. However, as we have shown in this field, there is an implied acceptance of such damages based on local practice.

We have mentioned that according to minhag, payment is impacted by the damaged person’s ability to minimize the damage. Pl could have done a serious regimen of extermination. This would have been expensive and would have required pl to move out of their home for a few months, and def would have been required to pay for all of those expenses, which would have come to 22,000 shekels.

It is more appropriate to obligate def to pay for most of the expense of the new furniture and the expenses related to the washing because def did not inform pl of this opportunity and did not check in with them after def’s initial extermination for themselves did not work. While the expense came to around 30,000 shekels (pl did not have full documentation of expenses), since pl also held some responsibility for not researching the best approach to take care of the problem, we will lower that which they deserve to 20,000 shekels plus 10,000 shekels for distress caused, which pl could not have totally gotten out of. Therefore, def will pay pl 30,000 shekels.    

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