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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5782

P'ninat Mishpat: A Worker Paying for a Stolen Car part II

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) gave a leased car to the defendant (=def), its employee, to use for both work and personal purposes. In the midst of using the car for work, pl stopped off at a carpenter on a personal matter. The two spoke for 14 minutes several meters from the car, with def’s back to the car, while the keys were in the ignition and the engine was running. According to security cameras, after 10 minutes, thieves drove off with the car, which also contained his work computer and smartphone. Pl came to an agreement with the leasing company (=lc) to pay them 20,000 NIS (less than the car’s value), as the insurance does not cover theft under these circumstances. Pl is suing def for that as well as the price of a replacement computer and phone. [This week we will focus on the following of def’s claim.] Def claims that it is accepted that a worker does not pay for damages that he is involved in at work.


Ruling: [We saw that the basis for obligation exists and that lack of awareness of his level of financial exposure does not affect it.]

There is a common practice, which is formalized in Israeli law, that damages that a worker does during his work, even if he acted not according to expectation, are the obligation of the employer. However, that law is limited to things that happened as part of his job. In this case, the theft occurred when def went to a carpenter on a private matter (albeit during the workday and in the midst of an errand for pl). The level of irresponsibility also exceeded that to which the law and practice refer to.

There is a concept of Talmudic origin to exempt workers who cause damage. The gemara (Bava Metzia 83a) tells of porters who broke the barrels they were transporting and were exempted beyond the letter of the law. There is a machloket whether this concept is only when they transport heavy, breakable objects or even those that are easy to protect (see Pitchei Choshen, Pikadon 8:(78)). Therefore, it is difficult to apply this halacha to our case, and it also does not apply because here there was negligence. Although the Aruch Hashulchan (CM 331:7) applies this halacha to all but the most egregious negligence, that is only in regard to small damages. While Rav Yaakov Ariel applied the exemption more broadly based on contemporary convention, he would probably not apply it to the level of negligence that exists here. 

We will deal with def’s final claims and the element of pricing next time.

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