Photo Credit: Jewish Press

During the spring, Mr. Feder had planned his summer vacation for the middle of August. He contacted his travel agent to book a round trip flight from Aug. 10 until Aug. 20. The travel agent booked the flight and sent Mr. Feder an email with the itinerary and booking details.

As August approached, Mrs. Feder said to her husband: “Can you please check that everything is in order for our vacation?”

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Mr. Feder looked over the email from his travel agent. He noticed, to his chagrin, that the dates were not as expected! It said Aug. 1 until Aug. 20.

He called the travel agent immediately to correct the date of the ticket. “It seems that you left out the zero in the departure date,” Mr. Feder said.

“Changing the ticket will entail a $200 surcharge,” the agent said. “It is unfortunate that you noticed the error only now. Had you checked the dates immediately, I could have corrected the ticket that day with no charge.”

“Regardless, the ticket has to be changed,” said Mr. Feder. “I cannot fly on the dates listed.”

“I will update the booking, and issue a new ticket,” said the agent.

Mr. Feder checked his initial communication with the agent. He had written the correct dates, and the error was clearly the agent’s.

“Why should we have to pay the surcharge?” Mrs. Feder asked her husband. “It was the agent’s error, not ours!”

“I was also wondering about that,” replied Mr. Feder. “I expected that he would offer to make good on the mistake. He said, though, that we should have looked over the booking when we got it.”

“Admittedly, we should have done so,” said Mrs. Feder. “But we relied on him. That’s what he gets paid for!”

“I’ll have to consult on this,” Mr. Feder said to his wife. He called Rabbi Dayan and asked:

Does the travel agent have to cover the surcharge due to his error?

“In many situations, when an agent is at fault and causes loss,” replied Rabbi Dayan, “he is liable to compensate his client for the error.

“The Gemara (B.K. 102a) teaches that if a person gave an agent money to buy wheat, but he bought barley instead, if the barley dropped in value the agent must bear the loss. Rashi explains that even if the sale is upheld, that agent was not sent for the client’s detriment. This can be expanded to other cases in which a loss occurred through the negligence of the agent” (C.M. 183:5; Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 12:13).

“Furthermore, the Gemara (B.K. 99b) teaches that if a seller paid a banker to evaluate whether a coin offered as payment was genuine, but it turned out counterfeit, the banker is liable when it was clear that the seller relied on him, since it is considered garmi (directly caused damage)” (C.M. 306:6; Nesivos 306:11).

“Moreover, Nesivos infers from the Gemara (B.M. 73b) that a paid agent or employee who caused a loss of even potential gain through his neglect to act on something in his power, as agreed upon, is liable … because the agent or employee undertook this responsibility. Some disagree.” (C.M. and Nesivos 183:1; Nachalas Tzvi 292; Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 12:16).

“However, if the agent sent the booking or itinerary to the client to review and confirm before ticketing and placing the charge, he would not be liable, since the client should have seen the error yet confirmed the mistaken booking. He cannot claim that he relied blindly on the agent. Merely sending a copy of the booking, though, would not suffice to relieve the agent of responsibility.

“Even in a case in which the agent is not liable for his error,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “he would not be entitled to his fee, if paid by the client, since he did not perform his job as instructed, which caused the client a loss” (see C.M. 66:40; 301:1).

Ruling: The agent is liable for the surcharge, unless he asked the client to confirm the booking; even in such a case, he would lose his fee from the client.

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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.