I was the guilty party in a recent car accident and paid for the repair of the other party’s car. However it took the garage two days to repair the car and since the other party needed the car for his job he rented a car for the two days. Am I obligated to pay for the cost of the rental?
We learned in the previous article that beis din would not rule that you are liable because of three factors. First, there is a major dispute if one is liable for temporary damages because they are not damages to the object itself. They just make the object temporarily unavailable for use by its owner, and are thus a kind of causative damage. Second, even those who maintain that one does have to pay for temporary damages only require payment for temporary damages to the extent that they lowered the object’s sale value, which in this case is negligible or nonexistent. Third, perhaps even the temporary damage here was only due to the line at the repair shop and not because the damage really required so much time to repair, so you were not the real cause of this damage.
However, if you are liable for causative damages then these reasons would not apply and you would be liable. Perhaps the third reason still applies, however.
We find in the Gemara (BK 55B) that even for causative damages for which one is not liable in beis din (gromo as opposed to garmi for which one is liable in beis din), one nevertheless may be liable in dinei shomayim, in the din of Hashem. This means that he will be punished eventually when he faces the Heavenly court. The question we must consider is how negligent one must be in order to be liable for causative damages in dinei shomayim.
The rule governing actions of direct damage for which one is liable in beis din, is stated by the Gemora in many places. The rule is: odom muad leolom. One is always liable, even if he did not act in a negligent manner.
Tosafos (BK 27B), whose opinion is authoritative, write that even though the Gemara says that the one who damaged is always liable even if he was not negligent, it does not include all cases but depends on the degree of negligence. Tosafos cites: 1 – the Yerushalmi that rules that one is not liable for damaging in his sleep an object that was placed near him after he fell asleep, and 2 – the Gemoro that rules that orphans are not liable for damages if they slaughtered a cow that they thought they inherited from their father only to learn later that their father actually only rented it from someone else.
Tosafos states that the precise rule is that a person who damages is liable for his actions if the level of his negligence is equivalent to the negligence of one who lost an object he was entrusted to watch. However he is not liable if the level of his negligence is only equivalent to the negligence of one from whom an object was stolen which is a lower level of negligence and thus lesser responsibility.
We must investigate what the rule is for causative damages for which one is only liable in dinei shomayim. Do we also say that odom muad leolom applies to such causative damages, or perhaps the rule is different and one is only liable if he was totally careless or perhaps only if he intended to damage.
The previously cited Gemara records a beraiso that states that there are four acts of damage for which one is not liable in beis din but is liable in dinei shomayim. The Gemara questions why the beraiso only cites these four actions when actually there are many other damaging actions for which one is only liable in dinei shomayim. The Gemoro answers that the beraiso singles out these four because one would have otherwise thought that the one who damaged in these ways is not even liable in dinei shomayim. It should be noted that in all of the four cases the one who damaged did so intentionally.
One of the four cases is where a person intentionally bent another person’s crop into the path of a raging fire and as a result the crop was consumed by the fire. The Gemara explains that the reason one would have thought that the one who bent the crop is not liable even in dinei shomayim is because it was only because an unusually strong wind began blowing that the fire consumed the crop, but otherwise the crop would have been spared. The Gemara says that the reason why one would have thought that he is not liable in dinei shomayim is because he can claim that he didn’t know that a strong wind would come.
The Chazon Ish (BK 5, 4) says that we can deduce from this that if someone erred he is normally not liable since otherwise his lack of knowledge of the wind could never have been an excuse. Thus we see that indirect damages differ from direct damages since in the case of the latter one is liable even if he erred. Thus we have derived also that in general the rule that odom muad leolom does not apply to indirect damages.
The Rishonim dispute how different indirect damages are. Another example of indirect damage that is brought in the Gemoro where one is liable in dinei shomayim is where a person covered over someone’s crop that was threatened by an approaching fire and, as a result, the owner of the crop was not entitled to indemnification for his loss since one who starts a fire is not liable for damages done to hidden objects (called tomun). The Gemoro says that the reason one would have thought the one who covered the crop is not liable is because he can claim that he really had good intentions: to prevent he fire from consuming the crop.
The Rishonim dispute why he is liable in fact. Tosafos says he is liable because even if what he claims is true and he really had good intentions, he is liable because he acted carelessly in failing to carefully consider the possibility that he could cause a loss to the crop’s owner. Thus, we see that Tosafos maintains that one who acted carelessly (a peshiyo) is liable in dinei shomayim for indirect damages. This is also the opinion of others (Tosafos R Peretz, Nemukai Yosef BK 24A).
The Yam Shel Shlomo (BK 6, 4) and Bach (418, 10) qualify Tosafos that the one who covered the crop would not be liable even in dinei shomayim if he was unaware of the halacha that by covering over the crop he would exempt the one who set the fire from paying . The reason is because then he is viewed as an oness since he was unaware that he could harm the crop owner and rather he did his best to prevent damage. We see again that one who errs is not liable in dinei shomayim.
The Re’o and Meiri (brought in Shitto Mekubetses) both explain this Gemoro that the reason the one who covered is liable is because his intention was to free the one who set the fire from paying for the damages. Many deduce that these Rishonim argue with Tosafos and the others, and that they maintain that one is only liable in dinei shomayim for indirect damages where he intended to cause damage. However if he was only careless he is not liable. The Maharit (1, 95) also explicitly rules (he does not cite a source) that one is only liable in dinei shomayim for causative damage if he actually intended to damage.
In conclusion: The answer to the question if you are liable in dinei shomayim for the temporary damages depends on the varying opinions and also why the accident took place. Since you didn’t intend to damage, the Re’o and Meiri rule that you are certainly not liable even in dinei shomayim. If you acted carelessly, for example you weren’t paying attention to the road or you violated traffic regulations, Tosafos and many others would rule that you are liable in dinei shomayim. If you made an error of judgment e.g. you reasonably thought you could pass someone and you miscalculated, you would not be liable in dinei shomayim. But if we consider these temporary damages to be direct, you are liable.