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Shabbat Parashat Eikev 5776

P'ninat Mishpat: Blemished Sofa

(based on ruling 74004 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) bought adjoining sofas from the defendant (=def) for 4,650 shekels. They asked for armrests, which needed to be added to the standard model on display. The sofa arrived without the armrests, and also with wooden rather than plastic legs, as pl had been promised. Def wanted to solve the complaint by giving a discount and afterward offered to make the necessary changes, but pl wanted to back out of the purchase. In an interim ruling, beit din said that pl should allow def to fix the sofa within 21 days (based on Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 232:5, that a seller should have the opportunity to fix the sales item rather than have the sale undone). After def returned the sofa, pl was unhappy with several things. 1) The stitching in one place is unaesthetic. 2) The shade and texture where a change was made do not match the rest of the sofa. 3) The armrests were attached in a manner that the sofas no longer adjoin nicely. 4) Def had promised to switch the legs according to pl’s request; pl requested metal legs, and def provided plastic. [Beit din visited pl’s home (in the presence of all the parties) to make determinations.] 


Ruling: The stitching is indeed imperfect in one area. Regarding the difference in fabric, the differences in texture and shade are slight. Def’s claim that it is the identical product, just that there can be slight differences based on different production lines from the same producer, is logical. The differences are only noticeable for one whose is looking for them and from close range. There is indeed a small separation when one tries to connect the sofas. Regarding the legs, def explained to pl that the metal does not fit in well with the sofa, and therefore it is hard or impossible to find metal legs that are appropriate for this sofa (pl accepted this explanation).

The main question is whether the imperfections justify a cancellation of the sale. The rule is that blemishes must be such that average people in one’s place would agree that cancellation of the sale is called for (Shulchan Aruch, CM 232:6). It does not make a difference if a certain buyer is more particular than others. In beit din’s view, the imperfections are minor, and general society would not think it justifies cancellation of the sale.

However, there is a concept that when an object that is bought is not of as high quality as that which was promised, the buyer is due a partial refund (Rama. CM 233:1). It would have been beneficial to have an expert determine how much of a refund is called for, but making the sides pay the price of such an expert is not justified regarding the relatively small amount of money in question. Beit din’s arbitration agreement allows for beit din to make such estimates, and the decision in this case is that 650 shekel should be refunded. The costs of the hearing are to be shared because both sides were somewhat uncooperative each with the other, which ultimately created a situation where outside intervention was necessary.

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