Beit Midrash

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A Contractor’s Work That Was Stopped in the Middle


Various Rabbis

The plaintiff (=pl) is a contractor who was hired by the defendant (=def) to renovate her apartment. During the work, def added more work. At some point, conflicts arose and the work was stopped. Def took another contractor to finish the job and, as usual, it cost more than it would have cost for pl to finish the job. Pl demands to be paid for the value of the work he carried out. [Other elements of this din Torah were discussed in Halacha Psuka, vol. 43.]

Ruling: The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 331:3) says that if one did work for which a price was not set, he is paid according to the lower range of accepted salaries in that place for that type of work. However, in this case, it should be determined in line with the original price estimate that pl presented. This is based on the Rama (CM 333:8) who says that if a worker agreed upon a price with one group of local leaders and then ended up being hired by a different set without stipulation, we assume that the same price is in force. The additional work, which was tacked on and is not to be viewed as a second hiring, should be modeled after the type of rate found in the first estimate. Since pl was not paid by time, the partial work should be determined based on the percentage of the entire job that was agreed upon.
In this case, def claimed that pl did deficient work. When this is the case or a worker changes the result of his work without authority, R. Yehuda (Bava Kama 100b), like whom we pasken, says that the worker receives the lesser of the following: the value of the improvement he made or the expense of the supplies used. Tosafot brings an opinion that the improvement is in comparison to the object as it was supposed to have been fixed. According to the Rambam (Sechirut 10:4), the improvement is in relation the object’s price before the work. The Shulchan Aruch (CM 306:3) and Shach accept the Rambam’s ruling, whereas the Rama and Netivot (ad loc.) accept Tosafot. The Shach also says that the worker should also be paid for his "toil time."
There were materials that were prepared by third parties, which def did not use because neither side communicated with the other after the conflict arose. One dayan reasoned that such "undelivered" work should not even be compensated partially. However, he can get paid for outlays that he incurred at def’s behest. The other dayanim reason that since the work was done, pl should be paid.
Regarding doubt as to the facts regarding the work done, the Shulchan Aruch (CM 12:5) says that one should rule in a manner that resembles compromise. This is especially true in a case like this where evaluating every element of the work would be a drawn-out, expensive process.
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