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  • Family and Society
  • Damage and Theft

responsibility for damages to a car borrowed from a friend


Rabbi Moshe Leib Halberstadt

Elul 18, 5777
Dear Rabbi, the following question is not about a personal issue and not a practical question at the moment, but it is about something I heard on the radio a number of years ago and I keep on wondering about and I would be glad if you could throw some light on the matter. Someone (Person A) borrowed a car (a large SUV) from his friend (Person B) (no money or payment was involved (although the other person might have thought that the favor would be returned eventually, however no explicit mention of that). Person A agreed with Person B that he (A) would drive with the car to a furniture store, buy furniture, load it in the car and drive the car to his own (A’s) home. (in other words, A wanted to buy furniture for himself) When A had loaded the furniture in the car as they had agreed (I suppose that the load was a reasonable one) and began to drive to his home and he was still on the parking lot of the store, the car drove over an open manhole. This damaged the car substantially and the wheel that drove over the open manhole had to be replaced. However at the garage it turned out that for this particular car all four wheels have to be changed because it could otherwise lead to significant problems. Person A also consulted with other mechanics and it was confirmed that indeed all four wheels would indeed have to be changed (as strange as it may sound). My question is: What is A’s responsibility to B regarding the costs of the repair? On the one hand it seems to me that since A borrowed the car from B without paying any money, A is responsible for the damage. However, is there also an aspect of the situation being an ’unlucky’ one where there was not only an open manhole but also an unusual aspect in the repair, that all four wheels would have to be changed, not only the one that was directly damaged. Is this force majeure? Another aspect that I was thinking about: Is the owner of the parking lot responsible in the end because of the fairly deep hole? However, if the owner of the parking lot would refuse to compensate (or even go out of business and not pay compensation), would A still be responsible for paying B the damages? Thank you very much (It is a question that I have thought about often)
The status of one who borrows a vehicle is just like any other "Shoel" – borrower who is liable for circumstances beyond his control and needless to say that he is liable for theft & loss or negligence. Nevertheless; he is absolved for "Meita Machamat Melachah" – died on account of usage. Also rare cases and "lack of luck" are included in the category of "beyond his control" which a borrower is liable for. Repairing the damage includes all four wheels, not only the wheel which was directly damaged. Because according to the opinion of all professionals, this is the correct way to restore the vehicle to its previous state. The main question for discussion is: whether it is considered "Meita Machamat Melachah" – died on account of usage, where the borrower is absolved? It seems that if the case was that in a normal circumstance the driver had no chance of seeing the hazard, whether it was because of lighting or because of environmental conditions, it is considered "beyond his control" in the framework of the purpose for which he borrowed the vehicle, so it is as "Meita Machamat Melachah" – died on account of usage, and he is exempt from paying for the damage. But if the case was that in normal circumstances he could have seen the hazard, then he should have been careful not to drive over the manhole. Therefore it is certainly not considered "beyond his control", and even if we don't consider it negligence, it is probably more similar to theft and loss where the borrower is liable even if it accrued during usage. It is important to emphasize that the exemption of "Meita Machamat Melachah" – died on account of usage, is only in a damage "beyond his control" that occurred during usage and not in a case of negligence or theft and loss. It seems that the parking lot owner does not have to pay because it is a pit a private domain where one is absolved from paying for its damages. And even more so according to the description in your case, it was a manhole that was covered and the cover was damaged or missing, so he was not the one who "dug the pit". And as far as his obligation to prevent damage, it is possible he was not aware of it yet or he didn't get a chance to fix it. In addition, according to Jewish law one is not liable for damage caused to inanimate objects in a pit, as is learnt from the verse: "And an ox or an ass fall therein" (Ex. 21, 33). [Implying] ‘Ox’ but not ‘man’, ‘ass’ but not ‘inanimate objects’. In many cases there are signs in the entrance to the parking lot where the owners decline any responsibility for damages caused in the parking lot. (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 340, 1, 3. Netivot Hamishpat 5. Aruch Hashulchan 14. And Siman 410. And Aruch Hashulchan 4).
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