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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev 5781

P'ninat Mishpat: Who Drove Worse?

(based on ruling 76071 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) maneuvered his car into the oncoming lane near a beit knesset. The defendant (=def) backed out of the beit knesset’s driveway, checking the road was clear only to his left (from where cars normally come). The two made contact, and pl continued driving several more meters, making an elongated deep scratch in pl’s car. Originally, pl admitted wrongdoing for having been in the wrong lane, but when an onlooker told him that one who backs out is always responsible, he changed his mind and explained that he had veered out of lane to avoid a poorly parked jeep. Pl claims that he bought the car for 4500 NIS and sold it unfixed for 1000 NIS. He spent 500 shekels on an appraiser who estimated the damage at 3,400 NIS, and he is therefore demanding 3,900 NIS. Def counters that pl was responsible for the collision and aggravated the damage by continuing to drive. He also disputes the appraisal for such an old car.


Ruling: The gemara (Bava Kama 48a) says that if two people enter an area and collided, if one acted with permission and one acted without permission, the former is exempt and the latter is obligated. If either both entered with permission or both without permission – if they “damage each other” they are obligated to pay, but if they “are damaged by each other,” they are exempt. Rashi says that the latter is referring to indirect damage. The Rambam (Chovel 6:8) distinguishes between whether the damage was done on purpose or by accident. The Acharonim dispute like whom the Shulchan Aruch (CM 378:16) rules.

In our days, poskim assume that the governmental laws of driving have an impact on the halachic laws of damage payments. Therefore, someone who breaks the law in regard to driving is categorized as one who “went without permission” (see Pitchei Choshen, Nezikin 1:(71)). The Chashukei Chemed (Bava Kama 31a) goes further, saying that if, according to the law, someone is obligated to pay for an accident, this becomes the halacha as well. For example, according to the gemara if someone stops suddenly and someone else collides from behind, the one who stopped is obligated for damages. However, since the law/society has accepted that the person behind must leave enough space to react and stop, and that if he does not, he has to pay, this becomes binding (see Bava Batra 8b). This is especially true regarding cars where failure to leave space before the car ahead can bring death.

Going through the different driving laws, we find that one should back out into a street only if necessary and only after ascertaining that there are no cars in the vicinity. On the other hand, one may go into the lane of ongoing traffic only if he checks that he has time to get back without danger. So both pl and def violated the law. However, def also violated the law of not giving precedence to the person who was driving straight as opposed to the one turning. Therefore, he is more responsible and must pay. Since much of the damage to pl’s car was from his failure to stop immediately, we rule based on compromise that he will receive only 1,000 NIS.   
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