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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah 5782

P'ninat Mishpat: A Worker Paying for a Stolen Car part III

(based on ruling 80088 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def), a worker for the plaintiff (=pl), used on a regular basis a car leased by pl, both for work purposes and for personal ones. One time, in the midst of using the car to transport things for work, he stopped off at a carpenter to discuss personal services. The two spoke for 14 minutes several meters from the car, with def’s back to the car while the keys were in the ignition and the engine running. According to cameras, after 10 minutes, thieves drove away with the car, which also contained his work computer and smartphone; def did not realize for several minutes, when he finished talking. Pl came to an agreement with the leasing company (=lc) to pay them 20,000 NIS, as the insurance does not cover theft when the keys are in the ignition (the car costs more than that). [We go on to additional arguments.] The car company tried to make def pay, but he was not signed on their leasing contract (an administrator was), and so def argues that pl could have refused to pay them and therefore had no right to be magnanimous on his account. Pl demands payment for the computer and phone based on replacement with new ones, as they have determined it to be unwise to buy used ones.

 

Ruling: Def compared the giving of the car to him after someone else signed for it to the halachic cases of a watchman who gave to another. That discussion is irrelevant because it relates to the first watchman’s obligation to the owner, whereas our dispute is between the two watchmen. Also, the leasing agreement foresees the company entrusting the car to any of the employer’s workers (and family members) and so the same relationship applies to all users. The fact that the car company may approach the one who signed for the company does not mean that only he is obligated but that even he is obligated in addition to the company. Therefore, if there was negligence on the part of the driver in a manner that the damage is not covered by insurance (as is the case here based on industry regulation when one leaves keys in the ignition), pl was required to pay. Based on what we have seen above, then, def must compensate pl.

As pl cited, Rav Blass (Techumin XIII) supports in many cases the obligation of the damager to return the situation to what it was before rather than to pay depreciation. However, while that might make it necessary for def to facilitate the acquisition of a computer and phone, that does not mean they need to be new ones if old ones were stolen. Although the Erech Shay (CM 386) says that when a damaged item has no market value, the damager has to pay for the subjective damage it caused the owner. Here, since pl has the opportunity to buy used replacements, like the ones that were stolen, def has to pay only the value of used merchandise. We give the sides ten days to come to agreement for the appropriate compensation for the computer and phone, which will be added to the 20,000 NIS due on the car.

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