Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The rustic town of Oldsville drew crowds of visitors every summer. Yankel, one of the town’s residents, owned three fine horses and would charge visitors a fee to ride them through the town’s cobblestone streets.

One afternoon, Feivel came to rent a horse. But when he ran up to one of the horses, the startled horse kicked him in the leg. Furious, Feivel pushed the horse, causing it to lose its balance. The horse fell and landed with a thud, one of its legs twisting awkwardly in the process.

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Yankel called the vet. “His leg is badly broken,” the vet pronounced, after examining the horse. “Without an operation, the horse will never be able to gallop or pull a wagon again.”

Upon hearing the vet’s prognosis, Yankel said to Feivel, “You owe me money for injuring the horse. There’s the $2,500 veterinarian’s fee, plus the loss of income I would have made from the horse for the remainder of the summer, which is an additional $1,000.”

“How much is the whole horse worth?” Feivel asked. “Go sell it and I’ll pay you the difference to buy a new horse.”

“I don’t want to sell the horse, though,” Yankel retorted.

Question: Is Feivel required to pay Yankel $3,500 or only the difference between the price of the injured horse and a new one, which is considerably less?

The Torah (Shemos 21:19) requires a person who injures another person to pay for his medical costs (ripui) and any wages he lost due to his injury (sheves).

If an animal injures a person, however, its owner is not liable for ripui and sheves; he is only required to pay for the damage resulting from the person’s permanent disability (nezek) (Choshen Mishpat 420:3, 405:1).

Tosafos (Gittin 42b) writes that some authorities also exempt a person who injures an animal from paying for ripui and sheves. The Shach (388:39), based on the Mordechai, explains that ripui and sheves are considered grama (indirect damage), and the Torah only obligates a person to pay ripui and sheves if he injures a person.

However, Tosafos cites Rabbeinu Chaim Cohen, who maintains that loss of income is calculated as part of the nezek payment since the animal is worth less on the market due to its inability to work.

The Mechaber and Rema rule in accordance with the opinion that exempts a person from ripui and sheves if he injures an animal, but the Shach considers the issue an unresolved dispute (sefeika d’dina). Since the exemption is rooted in grama, a moral obligation for reimbursement would apparently remain even according to the view that exempts him from paying ripui and sheves (Choshen Mishpat 307:6; 340:2; Shach 307:5; 340:4; Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 11:6).

Moreover, later authorities (Yeshuos Yaakov and Chazon Ish) rule – against the simple reading of the Shulchan Aruch – that a person who injured the animal is liable for impending medical expenses that reduce the animal’s value on the market.

Similarly, the Nesivos writes that if the injury will not heal without medical intervention, he is responsible to pay to restore the animal to its former state just as he would be liable for repairing any other property damage (Pischei Teshuvah 307:3; Chazon Ish, B.K. 13:8,10; Nesivos 340:4).

Verdict: Feivel is liable for the horse’s loss of value, including loss due to impending medical expenses, and has at least a moral obligation to pay Yankel for loss of potential income.

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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.