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The Brauns rented a house that was equipped with a central air-conditioning/ heating unit. They also decided to purchase a large self-cleaning oven, instead of the old one that was in the house.

“It’s getting cold,” Mrs. Braun said to her husband. “Please turn on the heat.”

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Mr. Braun turned on the central heating unit and the house began to warm up.

After half an hour, the electricity suddenly blew. The Brauns looked outside and saw that the neighbors had electricity. “Must be something with us,” Mr. Braun said. He went to the electric box and tried raising the circuit breaker. It fell again immediately.

“There is something wrong with our electricity,” Mr. Braun said. “We’ll have to call an electrician.”

An hour later the electrician came. He checked the circuits and ascertained that the problem was with the air conditioner. “There’s a problem with the air conditioner/heater,” said the electrician. “You’ll have to call an AC technician to fix it.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Braun began to make supper. She wanted to turn on the oven, but notice that the display panel was blank. “There’s something wrong with the oven!” she exclaimed.

“The surge must have blown the circuit board in the oven,” said Mr. Braun. “We’ll have to have it replaced or fixed.”

The next day, the AC technician came by. “This unit’s been around for a number of years,” he said. “Some of the wires are already brittle, and the insulation is worn in a few places.” He replaced the wiring and the damaged electrical components in the AC.

Mr. Braun notified the landlord. “We’ll cover the air-conditioning repair,” the landlord said. “That’s included in house repairs.”

“What about the damage to the oven that the air conditioner caused?” asked Mr. Braun.

“The oven is yours,” said the landlord.”It’s your responsibility.”

“But your air conditioner caused the damage,” argued Mr. Braun. “It should be you liability!”

“It’s not like I did any damage,” countered the landlord, “but I’m willing to pose the question to Rabbi Dayan. Whatever he decides is fine with me.”

Mr. Braun called Rabbi Dayan and related what happened. “Who is responsible for the circuit board in the oven?” he asked.

“For a number of reasons, the landlord it not accountable for the damage,” answered Rabbi Dayan.

“Why is that?” asked Mr. Braun.

“First,’ replied Rabbi Dayan, “the damage that the short in AC caused to the oven falls into the category of indirect damage, or grama, for which a person is not held liable in beis din.” (B.K. 60a; Rama C.M. 386:3)

“The Rashba [2:53],” continued Rabbi Dayan, “rules that someone who rented out a storage place with a hole, which caused a loss to the stored item, is exempt because of grama. This can be extended to one who rented out a malfunctioning tool, which caused damage to other items. Nonetheless, if the owner knew beforehand that the item malfunctions, some maintain that he is liable, and certainly there is no need to pay the rental fee for the defective item.” (See Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 6:1; Pikadon 9:22)

“But isn’t there an obligation b’dinei shamayim, at least, to pay also for grama damage?” asked Mr. Braun.

Grama generally carries a responsibility b’dinei shamayim, but only if the person intended to damage,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, there is not even a moral obligation when unintended, as in this case. [Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 3:39-40; Minchas Pitim 385:3]

“Second, a technician explained to me that damage to the circuit board is usually a cumulative issue, after being weakened by former incidents, and not due to this event alone. Moreover, it is not the power outage that causes the damage but rather the surge when you turned the power back on. Appliance vendors usually recommend using a surge protector with such appliances. Thus, you are partly negligent for not doing so.”

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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.