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Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei 5780

P'ninat Mishpat: Poisoning a Dog

(based on ruling 78007 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) hired the defendant, an exterminator (=def), who advertises his “natural” system, “without poison or danger,” to rid his house of rats, for a price of 4,680 shekels. Def placed several strips of material in strategic areas. Upon finishing, he wanted to give pl instructions, but pl was busy. Two weeks later, pl’s dog became very sick (veterinary intensive care). The veterinarians suspect that rat poison was the cause of illness. Pl claims that if not for the advertisement of “no poison,” he would not have hired def. Def responds that no poison means only that it is not dangerous for people in the house, but certainly there is poison – after all, it says “extermination.” Def admits being aware of the dog and not warning pl, explaining that he did not expect a dog to eat the poison. He suggests that there was other poison in the area. Pl demands 4,790 shekels, the cost of the veterinary bills plus half off the price of the extermination charge (2,340 shekels) due to misrepresentation. Pl argues that the guarantee that def gives is useless for him, since he does not trust def in his house.


Ruling: It seems evident to us that def is the source of the poisoning of the dog, even though it cannot be proven conclusively. It is clear, though, that this type of damage causation is only gerama (too indirect to be able to obligate payment), as the gemara (Bava Kama 56a) says about a slightly more direct case of poisoning an animal. Although the gemara says that there is a moral obligation to pay in its case and our arbitration agreement enables us to obligate payment for gerama, we will not make def pay the veterinary bills because this was done by accident. (It is also not clear that the payment for doctors’ bills (ripuy) applies to animals (see Pitchei Teshuva, Choshen Mishpat 307:3).)  

However, pl is correct that def’s advertisement created misrepresentation. Therefore, pl can claim mekach ta’ut (a mistaken and thus void sale). One cannot implement a normal voiding of the sale because the material was already used, the work was done (and cannot be returned), and positive impact (regarding the rats) was already made. Therefore, we will give back only 4,000 shekels (the majority of the agreed price for def’s work for pl). It is true that pl asked only for half off due to misrepresentation, but pl made that limited claim with the understanding that he would be getting payment for the medical bills. This is thus a case of mechilla b’ta’ut (relinquishing rights through a mistake), and pl can receive a greater refund, which is less than the total he asked for.
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