Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5768
A Student Who Broke a Camera
(based on Halacha Psuka, condensation of a psak from Mishpatecha L’Yaakov III, pp. 142-157)
Case: The defendant (def) is a student at a college for photography (pl). Pl lends its students photographic equipment to prepare projects. When def was trying to put a camera on its stand (also provided by pl), the camera fell down and broke. While pl assumes that def was negligent, def says that the stand was faulty. Pl has a security deposit from def which it can use for payment (and is thus muchzak).
Ruling: Although pl uses the language of “lending” equipment to students, since this courtesy is accorded only to students, who pay tuition, pl may be considered to have rented the equipment. Using the term lending does not necessarily heighten one’s obligation, as it is now a common term in cases where no money changes hands directly.
Beit din was convinced by certain evidence that the camera stand was faulty and thus the damage happened as an oness (lack of negligence on def’s part), as pl should have warned him. On the other hand, a borrower (should def be so considered) is obligated even in oness.
Is falling from the stand considered meita machamat melacha (a borrowed object that “died” during use), for which even a borrower is exempt? The Rambam (Sh’eila 1:1) indicates that this is the case only if the damage happened when it was being used. Most Rishonim say that even if the damage occurred after the use but resulted from it, he is exempt. There are two explanations. The Ramban (Bava Metzia 96b) says that since the lender gave an object that is not fit for the intended use, as its “death” proves, he is at fault. The Rashba (ad loc.) says that it is assumed that the lender, who is aware of such dangers as depreciation and is mochel on them, is also mochel on meita machamat melacha. In our case, according to the Rambam, only during the actual photographing would there be an exemption, whereas according to the Ramban and Rashba, pl is at fault and should be considered to have been mochel damage payment when it did not inform def.
A borrower is also exempt if the lender was working for him at the time of the lending (be’alav imo) (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 346). To a certain degree this is the case because def pays pl to educate him. On the other hand, pl is a corporate entity and not a human being and it is not clear if be’alav imo applies to it. (Consider the machloket among poskim regarding lending money with interest to a corporation.) Furthermore, it is the teachers who educate def, and the college just tells them to do so. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid.:6) is not conclusive if be’alav imo applies to agents. There is further reason to apply be’alav imo, as the Machane Ephrayim says that a worker (i.e., a teacher) is better than a regular agent. On the other hand, R. Akiva Eiger says that the distinction does not change the halacha here. Since pl is muchzak in def’s money, he should be able to withhold it as payment.
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