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Shabbat Parashat Shelach 5781

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

(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 because he wants the aluminum to 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: Last time, we saw that pl was wrong in leaving the work and lost his right to finish the job.

Pl claims that even if he was wrong for leaving the job, his fee should be reduced only according to the prorated cost of the work needed to be finished. The contract states that if pl fails to keep to the time schedule or does not fix flaws within ten days, def can replace him, after warning. This grants def the right to have the same work done, even at a higher fee (def must present proof of payment). The warning does not need to be about an imminent hiring of someone else, but just that he make demands about what is expected of pl, which it is documented that he did.

The written specification of the aluminum work requires “Belgian style,” which pl did not provide, and therefore def wants them replaced. The problem was detected before installation, and the sides decided to install what was ordered and compensate monetarily as needed. Now, def claims that the aluminum is of unreasonably low quality. Pl denies ever receiving the specification sheet for the aluminum and that they therefore ordered “standard” aluminum. Pl also claims that eng agreed to the aluminum, which eng denies.

Beit din concludes that it is unreasonable for pl to have received exact specifications for everything except the aluminum and to nevertheless set a price for it, especially because we are unaware of any “standard” product. There are also indications that pl received the information and acknowledged he made a mistake in the order. The rule is that when a litigant quotes a third party and the third party denies what was said in his name, the litigant is not believed. Since both sides gave special trust to eng, pl’s claims in this matter are rejected. However, beit din’s expert finds that the aluminum installed is of reasonable quality and since def allowed it to be installed, the aluminum need not be replaced. Pl will have to return a significant amount of money for the downgrade.

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