Yehuda’s family was moving from New York to Texas. Before moving, they bought a high-riser and accompanying mattresses from a store in New York owned by Mr. Schein for their new residence.
When the high-riser and mattresses were delivered, Yehuda had them loaded onto the moving truck.
When the movers arrived in Texas and unloaded the belongings, Yehuda tried placing the mattresses on the high-riser, but they were too big for the frame. He checked the tag, and saw that the mattresses were not what he ordered!
Yehuda called the store in New York to notify them about the mistaken mattresses. “I would like you to ship me the correct mattresses,” he said.
“I apologize about the error, but shipping mattresses to Texas is very expensive,” said Mr. Schein. “Although those mattresses cost much more than the ones you ordered, keep them instead!”
“That doesn’t solve anything; they don’t fit on the high-riser frame,” replied Yehuda. “It was your error in delivering the wrong mattress.”
“I could have easily exchanged the mattresses in your apartment in New York,” replied Mr. Schein. “You complicated matters by transporting them to Texas!”
“Still, what should I do now about the high-riser?” asked Yehuda. “I can buy mattresses locally, but prices here are higher than yours. Furthermore, the movers charged an extra $50 because of the mattresses. Are you willing to cover all this?
“You can’t expect me to cover that,” replied Mr. Schein. “That’s exaggerated!”
The two called Rabbi Dayan and asked:
“Who is responsible for returning the mattresses to New York? Is Mr. Schein liable for the additional expenses Yehuda incurred?”
“When the seller provides the wrong item, either party can void the transaction,” replied Rabbi Dayan (C.M. and Sma 333:1).
The Gemara (B.B. 92a-b) addresses a case similar to ours regarding defective merchandise. A person sold edible seeds for planting, but they turned out defective and didn’t grow. The seller is required to reimburse the buyer the cost of the seeds, even though they are now ruined and not even usable for eating. Because the seller knew that the buyer intended to plant them, the buyer is not liable for the damage he caused the seeds by planting them. Nonetheless, if the seller was not aware that the seeds were defective, he is not liable for the buyer’s additional expenses of planting them (tractor, labor, etc.), which is considered grama, indirectly caused damage (C.M. 232:21).
Based on this, Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch rule similarly about someone who transported defective merchandise to a distant location. If the seller knew that the buyer intended to transport it, he must reimburse the buyer for the defective merchandise, and the buyer does not bear the responsibility of returning it, even though he distanced it. Nonetheless, the seller – if he was not aware of the defect – is not responsible for the buyer’s initial cost of transporting the defective item, nor is he required to ship a replacement item (if he prefers to reimburse cash).
However, if the seller did not know that the buyer intended to transport the merchandise, the buyer is liable for having distanced it, if he could have checked the item first (Sma 232:53; Nesivos 232:10; Pischei Choshen, Ona’ah 13:25).
“Regarding mistaken merchandise, though,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “the sale is completely void. Here, it seems that Yehuda is not responsible to ship the mattresses back to New York, even if Mr. Schein did not know that Yehuda intended to transport them to Texas, especially since the store was careless in delivering the wrong mattresses. Nonetheless, Mr. Schein is not liable for Yehuda’s additional $50 moving cost, nor for shipping the correct mattresses” (see Kiseh Mishpat, Tauber, #90).
Verdict: If the seller knew the buyer’s intent to move, the seller is responsible for returning the merchandise. If not, the buyer is responsible for returning defective merchandise when he could have checked before distancing it, but seemingly not for mistaken merchandise.