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Shabbat Parashat Behaalotcha 5781

P'ninat Mishpat: Pay for Contractor who Left the Job under Protest part I

(based on ruling 76072 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendants (=def) hired an engineer (=eng) to plan and supervise expansion of their home, and eng recommended hiring the plaintiff (=pl) as the contractor. Def and pl signed a detailed contract, and pl did much of the work and received much of the payment for the job (285,000 out of a total of 378,000 NIS specified in the contract) before stopping due to financial disputes. Eng and pl engaged in negotiations over mutual grievances (poor quality, especially of aluminum, and insufficient funding, respectively), some of which is electronically documented in oral and written communication. As a result, def paid pl an additional 10,000 NIS, but soon thereafter pl demanded an additional sum and did not return to work due to eng/def’s refusal. Pl finished the job by hiring subcontractors. Pl is demanding money he claims is due him for what he did and because he should have been allowed to finish. Def is demanding return of some of the money for overpaying and for their demand that the aluminum be replaced. [As is common for building disputes, there are numerous detailed disputes, over 68 pages of two rulings. We will highlight some of the major disputes.]

 

Ruling: In response to pl’s claim that he had been justified to pause the work due to underpaying, def showed that the contract states that eng is the sole authority about when and how much payment is due and he is to arbitrate any disagreement. Pl responded that eng was lying about the money due in order to find favor in the eyes of def, his employers.

Def are correct in this matter. The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 71:1) rules that if an agreement is made between the sides that the lender will be believed about whether payments were made, he can continue to get paid based on his word without an oath, unless witnesses testify that there were additional payments. This is even though the lender is obviously biased, because the borrower was aware of that from the outset. Here too, pl was aware of the relationship between def and eng and still accepted eng as the final word. Therefore, pl was not justified to boycott his job over a financial dispute, against eng’s decision. At this point, of course, beit din has the authority to overrule eng’s decision if it can be proven to have been erroneous. However, in this case, pl has not even been able to explain how he arrived at the sum that he is demanding, which only weakens his position.

Regarding pl’s claim that he should have had the opportunity to continue the work, the contract states that not keeping to the work schedule is considered a “fundamental violation” of the agreement. Since the deadline for completing the work was 60 days, an unwarranted boycott of several days with no return date at hand is an abrogation of pl’s obligation and allows def to move on.

We will discuss other elements of the dispute next time.

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