Mrs. Spitz was spending the summer in a bungalow colony with her children.
She returned from shopping one day and began unloading the packages from her car. A bag containing a bottle of apple juice ripped; the glass bottle fell and shattered.
“That’s strange,” Mrs. Spitz said to herself. “I didn’t overload the bag; I don’t understand why it ripped.” She carefully pushed aside the broken pieces of glass with her shoe and continued to unload the car.
When she finished unloading, Mrs. Spitz picked up the large pieces of glass. “See if you can find the outside broom to clear away the small pieces,” she told her daughter, as she began putting away the food.
Meanwhile, a neighbor’s young child came running by barefoot. He stepped on the small shards of glass and cut his foot, which began bleeding profusely.
The neighbor heard him crying and ran out. She hurried with the child to the local doctor who removed a small piece of glass and put in two stitches.
When the neighbor returned, Mrs. Spitz went out to meet them. “Is your son OK?” she asked worriedly. “A bottle of juice fell and shattered. I was going to clear away the remaining glass shortly.”
“He needed two stitches, but should be OK,” said the neighbor. “I’m glad that it was only a small piece and that the doctor was available.”
“I feel I owe you,” said Mrs. Spitz. “At least to cover your co-pay and something for child.”
“It’s not necessary,” said the neighbor. “It’s not your fault the bag ripped and the bottle broke.”
“I’d feel more comfortable if we asked Rabbi Dayan,” said Mrs. Spitz. “I heard he came to visit his daughter today.”
“Mrs. Spitz is required to clean up the dangerous shards,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Nonetheless, if someone was injured by them she is not legally liable, but is morally responsible b’dinei shamayim if she could have removed the shards but neglected to do so.”
“Can you please explain?” asked the neighbor.
“A potentially hazardous object left in a public place is included in the category of damage called bor, or pit,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “The Torah holds that the one who created the hazard is liable, even if he does not own it. Thus, one who digs a pit in public property is liable as if it were his.” (B.K. 29a-b)
“So why am I not legally liable for having left the shards there?” asked Mrs. Spitz.
“When the bottle broke, you immediately relinquished ownership of the worthless shards,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “When the owner relinquishes ownership of the hazardous item, his continued liability depends on whether he was at fault that the item fell there. If he was at fault for creating the hazard, he remains liable; if he was not at fault, he is no longer liable. Thus, Mrs. Spitz is not liable since it was not her fault that the bottle broke there.” (C.M. 411:1-2; 412:4; Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 8:11-13)
“Why does Mrs. Spitz have to clear the shards he relinquished ownership of?” asked the neighbor.
“If the former owner could remove the hazard but neglected to do, it is still included in grama, or indirect damage,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “A person is required to avoid doing indirect damage, even though he is not legally liable. Therefore, Mrs. Spitz is required to clear the shards, as any grama that is prohibited, and remains morally responsible b’dinei shamayim if she didn’t.
“However, if she did not have a reasonable chance to clean, she would not be responsible at all, since one is responsible b’dinei shamayim for grama only when intended or negligent, not if unintended or beyond his control.” (Rama 386:3; Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 3:39; Halva’ah 2:76)
Rabbi Meir Orlian