Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The 8th-grade class was concluding its graduation trip. After three days of touring, they headed home.

Uri and Moshe were sitting next to each other on the bus. “That was some trip!” Uri exclaimed.

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“Yes, it was quite amazing!” acknowledged Moshe.

“We’ve got three hours of driving to get home,” said Uri. “Time for a nap!”

“Would you like to catch up on some learning first?” asked Moshe.

“Sure,” answered Uri. “We can fulfill ‘belechtecha baderech‘ – learning Torah while traveling!”

The two boys took out their chumashim and learned for a while. Afterward, Uri settled in for a nap the rest of the way home.

Moshe also decided to rest. He took off his glasses and hung them on the handle of the seat in front of him.

At the first stop back home, Uri, who sat next to the window, got off.

“Have a good evening,” Moshe wished him. He got up to let Uri pass.

As Uri got out of his seat, he heard a crack. “What was that?” he asked.

“My glasses!” exclaimed Moshe. “I hung them on the seat in front and you cracked them.”

“I’m really sorry,” said Uri. “I didn’t mean to break them. I didn’t realize they were there.”

“Don’t worry about it,” replied Moshe. “We’ll deal with it tomorrow in school.”

The following day, Uri approached Moshe. “I’m sorry about your glasses,” he said. “I’ll pay for them.”

“I don’t know that you have to pay,” said Moshe. “You broke them accidentally.”

“Nonetheless, it was careless of me,” said Uri. “I should have watched where I was going.”

“It was also careless of me to hang them on the seat,” said Moshe. “You had no reason to expect them there. I should have put them in my bag.”

“Let’s ask Rabbi Dayan,” suggested Uri.

That evening, the two stopped off to see Rabbi Dayan. Moshe related what happened and asked: “Is Uri liable for the broken glasses?”

“At first glance, Uri should be liable,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The Mishnah teaches that a person is prone to do damage whether unintentionally or intentionally, awake or asleep. The Gemara adds that a person is liable even for damage not in his control – oness.” (B.K. 26a-b; C.M. 378:1, 421:3)

“However,” continued Rabbi Dayan the Rishonim qualify this statement.” Tosfos [B.K. 27b s.v. U’shmuel] cited by the Rama, writes that a person is not liable for circumstances completely beyond his control – oness gamur. [Ramban, B.M. 82b] maintains that one is liable even for oness gamur, but exempts unintended damage that results from negligence of the owner. Rambam also exempts an ‘act of God’ or when the damaged party was negligent.” (Hil. Chovel U’mazik 1:11, 6:4; C.M. 378:1-3)

“As support,” continued Rabi Dayan, “the Rishonim cite the distinction of the Yerushalmi [B.K. 2:8] that one is liable for injuring another while sleeping only if they had lain down together. However, if someone was already sleeping and another person lay down next him and was injured by the sleeping person, the sleeping person is exempt, either because it is oness gamur or because the injured party was negligent in lying next to him. The Rambam extends this to items placed next to the sleeping person, which he broke.” (C.M. 421:4)

“In our case, Uri had no reason to expect glasses on the seat in front and Moshe was negligent in hanging them there,” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “They were prone to be knocked down by someone passing by. Thus, even according to Ramban, Uri is exempt.”

“What if Uri knew the glasses were there?” asked Moshe.

“If Uri knew about the glasses but thought he could squeeze by, he is liable, regardless of Moshe’s carelessness beforehand, since then Uri is also at fault,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “It seems, although it’s not simple, that the same is true if Uri initially knew about the glasses but later forgot about them.”

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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.