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Beit Midrash Series P'ninat Mishpat

part I

Chapter 205

Wrong Way Collision

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Case: The plaintiff (=pl) pulled out of his driveway and banged into the defendant’s (=def) car, as the latter was driving in reverse on a one-way street, causing damage to both cars. Pl claims that since def drove against the traffic rules, def is responsible for the accident. Pl claims to have pulled out slowly and says that he had no reason to suspect a car would be coming from the wrong direction. Def counters that since pl anyway had to look in both directions due to pedestrians, he was at fault for not seeing and avoiding def’s car.
P'ninat Mishpat (575)
Various Rabbis
204 - Expert Witnesses
205 - Wrong Way Collision
206 - Wrong Way Collision
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Ruling: The damage that one causes with his car falls under the category of a man who damages with his body, where the rule is that one is obligated even if he did so by accident and even if there were somewhat extenuating circumstances (Bava Kama 26a). Classical sources (see Rosh, Shut 101:5 and Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 378:9) discuss one who was riding an animal which damages, and a car is fundamentally the same idea. (The category of the damage done by one’s animal, which has different rules than a person who damaged, applies when the animal moves around of its own volition).
Def is to be categorized as going somewhere ‘without permission’ or ‘in an unusual way.’ This case is governed by the halacha of Issi ben Yehuda (Bava Kama 32a, accepted by Shulchan Aruch, CM 378:8) that if one who was running in the public domain and one who was walking collide, the one who was running must pay because he was doing the abnormal thing. Despite def’s claim, the majority of the beit din concluded that pl’s backing out of the driveway was done normally. The fact that there was a collision does not prove that pl was negligent. In fact, def did not claim to have witnessed any negligence on pl’s part, just that he reasons that had pl been careful about pedestrians there would not have been a collision. Beit din reasons that once pl passed the sidewalk, where pedestrians walk, he is not expected to concentrate on the direction where cars are not allowed to drive. It also appears that def was travelling quickly in reverse.
Therefore, since pl drove normally and def drove abnormally, only def has to pay pl. It can be demonstrated (beyond our present scope- see Chavot Yair 207) that even if it the one who acted normally could have avoided the damage with more care, he is not obligated to pay the one who acted abnormally because it is considered as if the latter entered someone else’s property and was accidentally damaged by that property’s owner. In this case, we do not even need to use that logic, as there is no indication that pl should have been expected to avoid the accident.
[Next time we will deal with questions concerning payment for fixing the damage.]
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