BS”D

 

Question:

Recently when I was loading my purchases into my car, a bottle of grape juice fell from one my bags and broke on the ground. Am I responsible for the broken glass or may I just leave it?

Answer:

The broken glass that is on the ground is a bor. Therefore, your question is whether you are responsible for this bor.

The Gemara (Bava Kama 29A) discusses a similar situation, where a person carried an earthenware jug containing water which broke in the public thoroughfare. Based on this Gemara, the poskim (Choshen Mishpat 412, 5) say that one must distinguish between a case in which the person transporting the jug was careless and a case in which he was blameless. In the case in which he was blameless, we rule that if he discarded the broken object immediately upon its breaking or if it is obvious that anyone would discard the fallen object, like the Gemara’s case of a broken earthenware jug or your case of a broken glass bottle, he is not liable in beis din for any ensuing damages.

However, if the bottle fell because he was careless, then he is responsible even if he discarded the broken bottle. Therefore if, for example, you held the bag sideways allowing the bottle to fall out of the bag you would be responsible even though you discarded the bottle. But if the bag unexpectedly tore you would not be liable. The reason is that when one makes a bor by being careless it is the same as if he dug a pit. Therefore, just like one is liable for a pit even if he dug it in the public domain, so too one is liable for a bor in the public domain which results from careless behavior.

The poskim discuss a third possibility which is not pertinent in this case but is something that one must bear in mind, in general. This is where someone’s object was placed in the public thoroughfare or fell in a manner where the owner is blameless, but when the owner found about it he was unsure whether he wanted to retain ownership or not, and only subsequently decided to relinquish ownership. Some poskim (like the Riva brought in the Shitto Mekubetses Bava Kama 29A and the implication of Rashi, Bava Kama 48A) maintain that since when the owner became aware that his object was sitting in the public domain he became responsible for any ensuing damages, therefore, he remains responsible even after he relinquished ownership. They maintain that this can be deduced from the case where one was blameworthy for the object’s initial fall in the public domain where we rule that he remains liable even after discarding it. The reason they are comparable is that in both cases at some point the owner was liable. Therefore, just like in case that he was liable as a result  of the initial fall he cannot absolve himself of his liability by means of relinquishing ownership so too here where he became liable after the initial fall he retains liability since he cannot absolve himself of liability by relinquishing ownership.

However other poskim (e.g. Bach in his commentary to Tur siman 412) differentiate between one who was negligent in placing the object in the public domain and one who was not initially negligent and just tarried in reaching a decision to discard the object. They maintain (explanation of the  Imrei Moshe 29 ,17) that one who was initially negligent is equivalent to one who dug a pit, but one who just became aware that his object is the public domain but was never negligent, even though he is initially liable for his object, he cannot be compared to one who dug a pit.

Therefore, the answer to your question whether you are liable for damages from leaving the remains of your broken bottle is that it depends why your bottle fell: Was it a result of negligence on your part or not?

However, it is important to add that the prior discussion was only concerned with whether you are liable in a human beis din for the ensuing damages. However, the Gemara states that even when one is not liable in beis din he is still liable in the heavenly tribunal for any resultant damages – chayav bedinei Shomayim – according to the regular laws of a bor, because at the end of the day he was the cause of the damage and one who causes damage is, generally, chayav bedinei Shomayim.

It is important to stress the significance of being chayav bedinei Shomayim. It is, not as people often think, a  voluntary obligation, but it is a real monetary liability. It is merely that human courts are not able to force the liable person to pay but pay he must, because when he will be judged eventually in the heavenly court they will rule that he departed from the world with a monetary liability.

There are even Rishonim like the Meiri (Bava Kama 56A) and the Sefer Hashlomoh who rule that one who fails to pay a known heavenly responsibility is disqualified to be a witness. This can have serious consequences, for example, if he was chosen to be one of the designated witnesses at a subsequent marriage the marriage would be invalid. There are opinions that disagree with the Meiri and maintain that he doesn’t become disqualified to be a witness, but nevertheless, all agree that the monetary responsibility exists.

Therefore, whatever you prior actions, it is best to dispose of the broken bottle.

 

 

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