Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Mr. Sender was late for work. He rushed out of his house, hopped into his car, and pulled out. Almost immediately he heard a bang and felt the car riding over something hard.

Mr. Sender stopped the car and got out to see what had happened. He saw that his neighbor, Mr. Neuman, had left his bike lying in front of the car. He had run over the bike and broken the brakes and gearshift.


“What’s his bike doing in front of my car!” Mr. Sender thundered. “It’s a good thing it didn’t damage the car.”

Mr. Sender moved the bike aside. “I’ll have to deal with Mr. Neuman in the evening.”

When Mr. Sender returned from work, he called Mr. Neuman. “You left your bike in front of my car last night. I accidentally ran over it.”

“It was a new bike,” said Mr. Neuman. “I just bought it!”

“You should not have left it there,” replied Mr. Sender.

“That’s true,” acknowledged Mr. Neuman, “but you didn’t have to run over it.”

“Obviously I wasn’t trying to,” responded Mr. Sender. “It was below my eye level and I didn’t see it beyond the hood. You left it in a place where it was liable to get ruined.”

“A driver is expected to watch where he’s driving,” argued Mr. Neuman. “That’s no excuse for not being careful.”

“When you’re not careful with your bike,” countered Mr. Sender, “why do you expect me to be careful about it?”

“Because you’re the driver!” exclaimed Mr. Neuman.

“It’s not my fault,” insisted Mr. Sender. “I went straight from the house into the car. The bike was left negligently right in front of the car. I had no way of seeing it.”

“It seems we’re not getting anywhere,” said Mr. Neuman. “I suggest that we bring the case to Rabbi Dayan and let him decide.”

“Agreed!” responded Mr. Sender.

The two came before Rabbi Dayan. Mr. Neuman asked: “Is Mr. Sender liable for the bike?”

“If the bike was on the sidewalk or in other public property, Mr. Sender is liable,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “If it was left in his driveway, he is exempt.”

“Can you please explain?” asked Mr. Neuman.

“The Mishnah [B.K. 26a] teaches, adam mu’ad l’olam, bein shogeg bein meizid – a person is liable for his damage, whether accidental or intentional,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, Mr. Sender remains liable even though he damaged accidentally.” (C.M. 378:1)

“Wasn’t Mr. Neuman negligent, though, in leaving the bike there?” asked Mr. Sender.

“Indeed, Tosfos [B.K. 4a keivan] cites the Yerushalmi that if items were placed next to a sleeping person, who rolled over and broke them, he is exempt,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “This is because it was beyond his control (oness) or because of the owner’s negligence. However, a driver is required to watch where he drives. Although Mr. Neuman was also careless, Mr. Sender is not comparable to the sleeping person, who was not at fault, since he was subsequently negligent in doing the damage.” (C.M. 379:4; 412:2; 421:4)

“What if the bike was left in my driveway?” asked Mr. Sender. “Why would I be exempt?”

“The Gemara [B.K. 28a] teaches that if barrels were piled all across someone’s courtyard, the owner can break his way in,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Tosfos [B.K. 28a meshaber] explains that the Sages didn’t require him to carefully pile the barrels elsewhere. This does not apply here, though, where Mr. Sender could easily move the bike aside; he has no right to damage it. Nonetheless, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch rule that one who unintentionally damaged an item left in his property without permission is exempt, especially if he was unaware of it.” (C.M. 378:4,6; Sma 378:3; Gra 378:17; Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 1:24 [56-60])

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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 [email protected]. 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 protected].