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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach 5781

P'ninat Mishpat: Who Caused the Renovations to Stop? part II

(based on ruling 79110 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def) hired the plaintiff (=pl) to do renovations, based on general guidelines, in a house she wants to sell or rent out. They signed a contract for 115,000 NIS not including VAT. In a later addendum, there are itemized additions with line values adding up to another 39,600 NIS. After starting, def stopped the work for a couple of weeks so that an interior designer could draw up exact plans. Disagreements, mainly about finances, arose after a few weeks, and the work ended, close to complete, with 135,000 NIS paid. Pl is unwilling to finish the work because def has indicated she will not pay any more. Def is unwilling to pay because she denies the validity of the additional fees for various reasons. Pl is suing for the remainder promised to him, with some adjustments if he does not finish, plus 2,000 NIS a day for the work stoppage in the middle, with the claim that his workers could not be reassigned to other projects. Def demands a return of money because of a list of uncompleted elements, faulty construction, and damage from the delay in completion, and because def had agreed to forgo VAT.


Ruling: Last time we saw that the agreements, including of the additional elements, were binding. We now digress to an unexpected but important topic.

Beit din appointed an expert (=exp) to study the plans and inspect the house. He found that the great majority of the work was done acceptably and listed elements that needed to be completed (pl had agreed with most). Beit din had intended for pl to finish the job in a few days, as pl was willing and def had wanted, while beit din would determine how much pl would receive. Due to the tensions between the sides, it was necessary to bring in someone to oversee pl’s work. However, def was unwilling to have a process in which she would have to pay pl or an overseer; she decided to have her father (=fath) slowly finish the work.

After exp completed his report, which sided with pl in 80-90% of the disputed matters, def demanded of beit din to disregard the report because exp had a prior relationship with pl. (Beit din, as always, questioned exp about previous relationships before hiring him.) She said that fath knew this based on a hug and “high-five” between exp and pl upon meeting, before the av beit din (=abd) arrived. Exp and pl denied any unusual greeting or prior relationship. Def was given the opportunity to confront exp before beit din but refused, saying that he is a liar. At a hearing, beit din enquired why fath had not said something to abd, and he said that he was too upset. Abd observed that the inspection was two hours long and fath did not seem upset. Def claimed that fath was in too much awe of abd to speak in his presence (a behavior not consistent with what abd observed). When asked why fath had not said anything to def until after the report was written, def said he had been too busy.

Beit din rejected the claims against an apparently impartial and respected expert based on claims by interested parties that were presented at a great delay with unconvincing excuses after he wrote an unfavorable report. Beit din pointed out that such behavior weakens the credibility of def’s claims but that each claim will be viewed according to its merits.

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