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Shabbat Parashat R'ei 5781

P'ninat Mishpat: When Does the Designer Finish her Job?

(based on ruling 80071 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def) hired the plaintiff (=pl) to do the interior design of his new house. The contract provides a base price of 19,890 NIS including VAT with a payment schedule based on progress, including 20% after choosing materials and 15% at the end of the job. It also calls for a 1,000 NIS extra charge for each “day of choosing materials,” of which both agree there was one normal day. Def asked for an additional, especially long day of choosing materials (8 hours in the north of the country), for which pl demanded 2,500 NIS and def paid 2,300 NIS. All agree that pl did a lot of work, including some level of plans for all relevant parts of the house, inspection services, and involvement in choosing materials. After some disagreement over how much was already due to pl and after 15,800 NIS had been paid, the two parted ways, and def did the last part of choosing materials himself. Pl claims she completed her responsibilities and demands remaining pay of 7,390 NIS (she agreed during the hearings to a reduction of 500 NIS in recognition of two matters she did not do). Def claims that pl did only around 45% of her job, as several of the plans she drew up were incomplete, especially in regard to carpentry, and because she did not help in choosing materials for several parts of the house (as extra pay is only when she comes along to choose, whereas oral advice was required for free). Def demands a return of 3,580 NIS including for overpaying by 300 NIS for the long material-choosing day.

 

Ruling: The contract is not clear as to pl’s required level of involvement in picking materials, or whether she could refuse to help in it other than taking part in the special choosing-material days for an extra charge. It is also not clear if plans that a carpenter could use for his work but did not provide “facades” or specify “finishing materials” are sufficient.

Therefore, we will employ the rule that the one who wants to use the contract to extract money has to provide proof that the contract supports his claims. In this case, that means that pl has to prove that she fulfilled her obligations sufficiently, which she did not do. On the other hand, def’s claims that pl fulfilled only 3-4% of her responsibilities in picking materials is clearly false. Pl did come to a regular and an extended day of choosing, and there are WhatsApp messages of her answering extensive questions on the matter.

In order to quantify the matter, it would be necessary to employ an expert, but for the size of the suit it does not make sense to spend the required money on a beit-din-appointed expert. The two sides agreed that beit din could share the details of the case (without names of litigants) with an interior decorator to receive an informal, pro bono appraisal. With that help, beit din decided that 15% should be taken off pl’s claimed wages.

Regarding the proper compensation for the extra-long day of choosing materials, the claims of both sides contain significant logic. Therefore, we will not alter the amount of 2,300 NIS, which def already gave to pl (albeit under protest).

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