- Question: [Tuesday 2nd of Shevat 5783]
I had a flight to catch and needed to leave my home at 3:30 AM to go to the airport to catch my flight. I prearranged with a Frum person who runs a car service for them to pick me up from my house at 3:30 AM, and even reconfirmed with them the previous day. I waited and waited and waited outside my home and they didn’t come and had no other way of getting to the airport. I tried calling numerous times, but he didn’t pick up. I also tried calling other taxi companies, but no one was available at that time of night to take me to the airport. In the end, I missed my flight which caused me considerable financial loss both in rebooking a new plane ticket, and hotel reservations that I had made. The next day he finally called me back very apologetically saying that he made a mistake with his alarm and overslept. I told him that he caused me financial loss and that perhaps he is required to reimburse me. What is the Halacha?
Being that different Halachic arguments exist for both liability and exemption of the driver to pay compensation, therefore, I suggest that both you and the driver either reach an agreement on your own, or go to a Rav or Beis Din to arbitrate. The argument to exempt the driver is due to the classic rule of Gerama Patur Benizikin, while the argument to obligate the driver is due to the rule that a worker who doesn’t show up for work and causes a loss is obligated to carry monetary liability according to some opinions. To note, that most likely a Beis Din would either completely exempt the driver or meet somewhere in the middle to compromise in the amount that he is liable but not make him pay the full amount.
Explanation: While in general there are civil laws in the Torah which make one liable for paying monetary compensation for damage that one causes to a friend, there are many rules and cases of damage with different applicable laws. One of the more famous concepts in the civil Torah law is the concept of Gerama, or indirect damage. The general rule is that one who causes indirect damage to a friend is not liable to compensate him for his loss. This, however, does not mean in any way that people have permission to cause indirect damage to their friend. Certainly, it is forbidden for them to do so, and furthermore, if they did so intentionally, they are actually liable in heaven to reimburse the person for the damages even though a court of Jewish law cannot enforce this payment or instruct him to do so. Now, in the event that the person had no intent to do damage, and certainly in the event that the person caused indirect damage by an explainable human error, then even in the courts of heaven he is not held liable to reimburse. Based on this one can argue that unfortunately, despite the logical and rightful claims you have against the car service driver, he is not obligated according to Jewish law to reimburse you for your loss as this is a mere Gerama and is due to human error. On the other hand however, we have another law pertaining to employee employer relationship based on which we can hold the driver responsible for monetary compensation. Some Poskim rule that if an employee does not show up for work and due to this a tangible monetary loss was caused, then he can be held liable to reimburse his employer. Based on this one can argue that the taxi driver has the status of an employee who did not show up for work and causes monetary loss to his customer which is like his employer. The only problem with this argument is that not everyone agrees with it and many Poskim rule that even in such a case the employee is not held liable to reimburse the employer. The problem is that in a monetary dispute the defendant can always claim that he holds the lenient opinion which exemption from liability. Accordingly, I suggest as above to either come to a compromise on your own, or go to a Beis Din.
Sources: See regarding the exemption of Gerama for one who causes indirect loss: Michaber and Rama C.M. 386:3; Encyclopedia Talmudit Vol. 6 Erech “Gerama Benizikin”; Meiri Bava Kama 56a; Shvus Yaakov 2:25; Ketzos Hachoshen 32:1; See regarding the exemption of an employee who causes indirect loss: Michaber and Rama C.M. 333:6; Shach 333:39; Nesivos Hamishpat 333:14; Mishpat Kehalacha p. 167; Chazon Ish Bava Kama 23:25; Divrei Geonim Kelal 105:1 in name of Har Hakarmel 5; Ritva Bava Metzia 73b