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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev 5784

P'ninat Mishpat: Paying Damages for a Biting Dog

(based on ruling 83033 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) was bit by the defendant’s (=def) dog, which resulted in, beyond ripped pants, a wound that required shots and caused great pain and several days of missed work. Def apologized and offered 5,000 NIS compensation. (There were conflicting claims about how careful def with his dog). Pl demanded 13,300 NIS (mainly for missed work and pain), and, as a result, def rescinded his offer.

 

Ruling: There are five possible elements to be compensated for regarding damage to a person – 1. Nezek – permanent physical damage; 2. Shevet – work missed during recuperation; 3. Ripuy – medical expenses; 4. Tza’ar – pain; 5. Boshet – embarrassment from the damages. When the damage was caused by a person’s animal, only nezek is paid (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 405:1). If the animal damaged maliciously, the payment is only half of the damage. Furthermore, such payment is considered a k’nas (penalty) unless that animal attacks maliciously on a regular basis, and the rule is that in our days, beit din cannot obligate payment for a k’nas. Halachic sources (see Shulchan Aruch, CM 395:1) and experience (in Israel, a few hundred dog attacks are reported per year) indicate that dog bites are not common enough to warrant a normal payment obligation. In this case, nezek is only to the pants (200 NIS), half of which is 100 NIS of k’nas, whose payment, as mentioned, is difficult to obligate in our times.

There are sources about beit din obligating payment for k’nasot based on minhag. The Shulchan Aruch (CM 1:5) talks of putting a person in niduy until he appeases the person he wronged. However, it is difficult to do this beyond the amount the Torah obligates when there are fully empowered batei din.

Even in our times, it is possible to impose extra-judicial payments to deal with problematic situations (ibid. 2:1), and one can argue that a dog attack is such a case. However, it is difficult for an arbitration-based beit din to do so, especially when the dog owner did not act recklessly. While one who signs our arbitration agreement enables beit din to obligate over matters for which there is only a moral obligation to pay, this would not justify significant payment here.

The valid grounds for payment in this case is dina d’malchuta (law of the land), as par. 41a of the Regulations of Damages calls for payment for damages caused by one’s dog, even if the owner was not negligent in his supervision. As this is a response to a legitimate need to deal with a disturbance to society, it falls into the cases where our beit din accepts dina d’malchuta as halachically binding. In a society with a dense urban population, it is not an inherent right to raise a potentially dangerous dog. Just as society expects those who have cars to be insured to pay for extensive damages, so too society demands of those who decide to have dogs, to pay in a complete manner for their damages.

In this case, pl did not prove actual damages to the extent he claimed. Our calculations of realistic damages (especially missing work and pain) come to around the amount def originally agreed to pay (5,000 NIS), which is what we rule.

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