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Bo-Car suffered damage while saving a falling compressor



One night there was an unexpected huge storm which uprooted trees etc. When I walked out to my car in the morning I discovered that the compressor of an air conditioner had landed on my car which was parked on the street. My windshield was smashed and there was a huge dent in the car. The compressor was not damaged at all since my car broke its fall. I spoke with the owner of the compressor and he told me that the compressor had been sitting on the floor of his porch since the air conditioner man was supposed to come and install the air conditioner the next day. I also spoke with the air conditioner installer and he told me that under normal circumstances the air conditioner would never have fallen. Does Torah law obligate the owner of the air conditioner to compensate me for the damages I suffered?


There are two reasons the owner of the compressor could owe you money for the damages. One is if he is directly liable for the damages and the other is if he is liable for the benefit that he gained from your car’s cushioning his compressor’s fall.

The reason he could be liable directly for damaging your car is that the Mishna (BK 2A) writes that one of the four classes of damages for which one is liable is eish-fire. If one lights a fire he must ensure that no one’s property will be damaged as a result. If someone’s property is damaged he is liable. The Gemoro says that a characteristic feature of eish is that it damages with the assistance of the wind. Consequently, the Gemara says that when the Torah writes (Shemos 22, 5) that one is liable for damages suffered from a fire he lit, it includes liability for one who placed an object such as a stone on his roof which subsequently was hurled by the wind and damaged someone’s property. Therefore, perhaps the owner is liable because his compressor is like such a stone.

However, you wrote that if there had not been this very unusual wind the compressor would not have fallen. There is a major controversy in case an unusually strong storm succeeded in hurling the stone. If the storm is one that does not occur in a usual year and especially if the object was only placed there temporarily, the owner of the stone is not liable for the damages, since one doesn’t have to be overly cautious. Thus, in your case he is not liable for eish damages.

We are left with the possibility that the owner of the compressor must pay you because he benefited from your loss. We have seen in previous articles that when one benefits from another’s loss, the beneficiary must pay for the benefit he derives, regardless of the value of the loss. For example, if a person squats in another person’s vacant house and slightly damages the house, the squatter must pay rent in full even though the owner did not lose any rental income since he did not seek to rent his house, and even though the damages to the house were minimal. (The damage in the case discussed in the Gemara is where the squatter merely dirtied the walls.) Therefore, perhaps he must pay you for the benefit that he derived. If otherwise he would have to replace the compressor perhaps, he would have to pay you the cost of a new compressor regardless of the cost to repair your car.

However, this is a very delicate issue which is not discussed directly by the Gemara and is only derived by the Rishonim from various rulings of the Gemara. It illustrates how one has to extremely careful when making analogies.

One case which seems to be identical to your situation is discussed by the Gemara (BK 58A). In the Gemara’s case a person’s animals were walking on a public road which was higher than the adjacent field. One of the animals slipped on slippery ground and fell into the adjacent field, landing on a bush. The bush was damaged but the animal was spared any damage since the bush broke its fall. The Gemara rules that the animal’s owner must pay the owner of the field for the benefit he had from the broken bush since his benefit came at the expense of the field owner. This seems to indicate that the compressor’s owner must pay you.

However, there is another section of Gemoro which indicates that perhaps this is not the case. The Gemoro (BK 101A) discusses a case of a monkey that took A’s dye and dyed B’s wool with it. The Gemoro is uncertain if B owes any money to A. Tosafos asks that based on the previous section of Gemoro that we mentioned, as well as other sections of the Gemara, it would seem obvious that B should have to pay A for the benefit he got from A’s dye, since dyed wool is worth more than undyed wool and thus B benefited from A’s loss.

Tosafos gives two answers, the first of which is critical to our discussion. Tosafos says that one must consider the way that the benefit came to the beneficiary. Based on the various cases discussed by the Gemara, Tosafos derives a rule that if the benefit is delivered in one of two ways the beneficiary is liable, but in other circumstances, the beneficiary is not liable even if he derived a gain.

One situation where the beneficiary is liable is if the benefactor himself acted to benefit the beneficiary, for example, if A plants a tree in B’s yard without having received prior consent. If B does not request that A uproot the tree, B must compensate A for the added value to his yard, since A has the classification of a yoreid.

A second situation is if B or B’s animal took something from A in order to derive a gain. A case that illustrates this and is discussed in the Gemara is where B’s animal ate A’s food that was situated in a public thoroughfare. B is not liable for the damages his animal causes, since the Torah said that if a person’s animal damages by eating food that was situated in public property he is not liable for damages. Nevertheless, the Mishna (BK 19B) rules that B has to pay A for the benefit he derived since his gain (the cost of his animal’s meal) came at A’s expense.

Similarly, in the case where the animal fell onto the bush Tosafos explains that the animal took the benefit from the bush’s owner by falling onto his bush and that is why its owner must pay for the monetary benefit that he realized from the bush.

However, if the animal did not do anything to derive benefit, the animal’s owner is not liable. For example the Shach (391, 2) cites the Maharshal who notes that according to this approach of Tosafos, if C took A’s food and stuffed it into B’s animal’s throat, B is not liable for the benefit he obtained from A’s food since neither he nor his animal took B’s food. Even though the animal’s owner benefits just as much if his animal took the food or if someone else put it into its throat, nonetheless, the rule for payment changes if the circumstances change.

Contemporary Roshei Yeshivas (e. g. R. Aharon Kotler (Shecheinim 3, 3, page 60), Shiurei Rebbi Shmuel (BB 102 in the name of Birkas Shmuel who cites Rav Chaim Brisker) explain the rationale for the distinction that is derived by Tosafos. They say that ordinarily when A, or his animal, damages, the reason A must pay is because he is liable for the damages he causes. There are rules for when someone is liable for damages he causes and when not. However when A not only damages but also derives benefit, then even when he is not liable for the damage, he may still be liable for the benefit he receives. The Birkas Shmuel says it is like he stole the benefit and that is what creates liability. Thus, even though A is not normally liable for damages caused when his animal eats food that is situated in the public domain, nevertheless A is liable for the benefit he had from the damages. One of the rules of liability for benefits is that the beneficiary is liable only if he did something to get his benefits.

A similar distinction between damages which do not result in liability for the one who damaged and those that do, is if the damage is beyond the control of the one who damages. When an animal falls onto a bush because it slips, the owner is not blameworthy for the animal’s slip and the owner is not liable for the damages caused. However he can still be liable for benefit he realizes since the animal took the benefit. Thus the amount he must pay is capped at the monetary gain he realizes from the bush breaking his animal’s fall. This explains why Tosafos considers the animal’s fall as the animal’s action. While it is true that no one is blamed for the animal’s fall, nevertheless where the damages result in benefit for the one who damages, the damage is attributed to the animal because he is the one who fell.

Returning to your question, it follows that according to this approach of Tosafos the owner of the compressor is not liable since it was the wind that caused the damage to your car. The owner of the compressor did not do anything to cause your damage. Just like one is not liable when a monkey brought him benefit at the expense of someone else, so too one is not liable for the benefit he gets when the wind damages someone’s property. Since the poskim (see Shach 391, 2) rule that one cannot make a person pay if according to this approach of Tosafos he is not liable, you cannot force the compressor’s owner to pay you anything.






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