My son was recently riding his bike near a home goods store in our neighborhood and accidentally knocked down an item being displayed outside the store, breaking it. An employee yelled at him to pay for it but, as any frightened child would, my son sped off and came home to tell me what had happened. The item was supposedly worth about 10 shekel. Strangely enough, by the time I got to the store to repay for the damage just a couple of days later, the store had gone out of business and there was no trace of any owner or employee. What do I do now? Should I check to see if they have another branch elsewhere and give them to money? How far am I mechuyav to travel to do so? Also, I doubt that anyone at this point will even remember precisely what item was broken.
First, you should know that you personally are not responsible in any case. Each person is responsible for his own deeds, and you don’t have to pay for what your son did.
The second issue is whether your son is liable for what he did. The Mishna (Bava Kama 87A) says that a minor is not liable for his damage. Therefore, if your son is under bar mitzvah he too does not need to pay. There are opinions (based on Rashi Bava Kama 98B) that the child should pay when he is past Bar Mitzva and has his own money. However, most poskim maintain that he is not required to pay at all. Therefore, whether your son is required to pay depends on how old he was at the time of the damage.
Another issue is whether your son is liable for the damage if the store owner did not have a right to place his wares on the sidewalk which is pubic property. Note that the fact that a person does not have a right to place his goods in a public thoroughfare does not give one license to damage those goods. The Gemara (Bava Kama 27B) says that only if the store owner makes the public thoroughfare entirely impassible is one permitted to break the blocking goods, if necessary. This is based on the rule that a person may take the law into his own hands, if there is no other way, even at the expense of the guilty party. However, if it is not critical to damage the other person’s property, one who damaged is liable.
Finally, there is the issue whether one who damages needs to take the money to a different branch of the store. The Mishna (Bava Kama 104A) says that if one stole and swore falsely that he did not steal, he must take the money he stole to wherever the one from whom he stole is located. However, this is a special penalty since the thief swore falsely. If he hadn’t sworn, he would not need to take it to to the victim’s new location. It would suffice to take it to the place where the victim was at the time he stole from him.
Similarly, the Nesivos writes (232, 10) that if someone damaged someone, it is enough if he brings whatever he owes to the place where the damage took place. Therefore, even if your son is liable, he would not need to take the money to a different branch of the store. He could just call the other branch and inform them what happened. Until recently, the din was that the store would have to arrange to get the money from your son. Nowadays, when it is easy to transfer money, the store could ask your son to make a bank transfer or to charge his credit card since it does not entail greater effort than returning the money to the place where he damaged.