Aryeh was cruising down the boulevard, following an old blue car. Traffic was moving at a brisk clip when the light ahead of them quickly turned yellow and then red. Aryeh applied the brakes firmly, but not fast enough. He bumped gently into the blue car ahead of him.
The driver came out and signaled to Aryeh to pull over after the light turned green. The two cars pulled over to the side of the road. Aryeh recognized the other driver as Zvi, someone from the other side of the neighborhood.
The two men assessed the damage. There was a small dent in the back of the blue car. Not a big deal, but a dent nonetheless.
“Sorry about the dent,” Aryeh said. “The light turned red a little to fast to stop in time.”
“Well, you should have kept a larger trailing distance,” said Zvi. “You’ll have to pay for the damage. I assume you have insurance?”
“Of course,” said Aryeh. “But I have a fairly high deductable. For a small dent like this, it’s not worth involving the insurance.”
Aryeh looked at the car. It had seen better days, and the new dent joined three other dents that had never been fixed.
“Where do you plan to fix the dent?” asked Aryeh. “I know a body shop that does excellent work for a reasonable price.”
“I’m not sure I’m going to bother fixing the dent,” said Zvi. “As you can see, the car has other dents. I’ve got other uses for the money.”
“If you’re not going to repair the car,” said Aryeh, “what exactly am I paying for?!”
“You owe me the money for the repair, regardless,” said Zvi. “You ruined my car. What I choose to do with the money is my issue!”
“I didn’t exactly ruin your car,” said Aryeh. “As you said, the car has other dents. One more small dent is not going to make a difference to the value of the car. If you want to fix it, that’s one thing. But if you’re not fixing it anyway, I didn’t cause you any real monetary damage.”
“You still owe me the full value of the repair as a cash payment,” said Zvi.
“Not if there’s no intent to repair and negligible depreciation,” insisted Aryeh. “Maybe a small something, but no more!”
“I have no doubt you should pay the full value of the repair,” replied Zvi, “but I’m willing to ask Rabbi Dayan how much you owe.”
The two came before Rabbi Dayan. “Aryeh dented my car slightly,” said Zvi. “Does he owe the full value of the repair even if I don’t plan on repairing it?”
“One who damages has to pay the differential between the initial value of the item and its value after the damage,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, in principle, we should evaluate the depreciation of the car.” (C.M. 387:1; 403:1)
“Then there would be almost no obligation of damage here,” said Aryeh. “The little dent has negligible impact on the value of the car!”
“It would seem that way,” said Rabbi Dayan. “However, the Shach [C.M. 387:1; 95:18] writes that this applies to something that cannot be repaired. However, when the item can be repaired the one who damaged has to pay the repair; we do not look at the depreciation.”
“That’s exactly the point, though!” exclaimed Aryeh. “Zvi does not intend to repair the dent. He just wants the money!”
“That might be significant according to the Shach, who seems to maintain that the primary obligation is to restore the initial state,” acknowledged Rabbi Dayan. “Presumably, he would also assess the cost of repair at the current time. However, the Chazon Ish [B.K. 6:3] takes this idea a step further. He maintains the cost of repair is established as the monetary obligation for the damage. According to him, the repair cost is assessed based on the time of damage, since this is the monetary obligation. As such, even if the damaged party has no interest in fixing the damaged item, he still owes the cost of fixing at the time of damage.” (See Dvar Chok U’mishpat, Rav Chanoch Sanhedrai, p. 289.)Rabbi Meir Orlian
About the Author: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com.
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