Lesson # 262 (part two) •The Craftsman as a paid bailee
This is the last lesson that deals with the laws of the paid bailee. Continuing with the craftsman as a paid bailee, assume that the owner delivers undyed wool to the dyer with instructions to dye the wool pink and he dies it black. Assume further that this cannot be undone. Since the object was not destroyed, as in the prior lesson, for the sake of determining the amount of damages to be paid, the object is now valued as of the lower of the following two amounts: (1) the value of the improvements made to the object, or (2) the expense of improving the object.
All that has been said about the craftsman being liable to compensate the owner for destroying his object is when the craftsman is to receive compensation for his work, whether or not he has actually been paid. However, if the craftsman is not expected to be paid for his work, then the laws are different. If the unpaid craftsman destroyed the object, his liability depends on whether he is an expert in the field in which he performs his services. If he is an expert, he is not liable to the owner of the object for its destruction. Since he is not getting paid, he stands in the role of an unpaid bailee who is not liable to the owner unless he is negligent. Since this person is expert in this field, his undertaking to act is not negligent, and unless it can be proved by the owner that the craftsman was negligent, the craftsman will not be liable. If he is not an expert and destroyed the object, the craftsman is liable. He is in the role of an unpaid bailee who is negligent in performing his chore as an unpaid bailee. If it is not known if this particular craftsman was expert or not, he has the burden of proof, and if he fails to prove he was an expert, he is liable to the owner.
A community hires a planter of trees, or a slaughterer of kosher meat, or a doctor, or a teacher of children, or a lawyer, or other professionals, and the professional continually destroyed or spoiled what he was supposed to perform. If what he did cannot be undone, he may be summarily dismissed. The result is the same whether or not the professional received a fee.
The status of the craftsman as a paid bailee continues until one of the following occurs: (1) The craftsman advises the owner that the object is ready to be picked up or delivered, as was agreed upon by the parties; the craftsman is ready to release the object and does not make the pickup or the delivery of the object dependent on his being paid prior to picking up the object. The owner may have a running credit account with the craftsman and pay him at the end of the month, or the craftsman may bill all his customers at a specific time interval, and delivery of the object is thus not dependent on payment before releasing the object to the owner.
If the owner does not retrieve the object within a reasonable time thereafter, the craftsman ceases to be a paid bailee and enters into the role of an unpaid bailee.
(2) However, if the release of the object to the owner is dependent on payment, then the craftsman continues to be a paid bailee until he is paid and releases the object to the owner. (3) If the craftsman notifies the owner to pick up the object and that the craftsman will no longer be responsible for the object, and the owner does not pick up the object within a reasonable time, the craftsman is relieved of all responsibilities for the object and is not even in the role of an unpaid bailee regarding the object, and is not liable even if he is thereafter negligent regarding the object. No person including a craftsman can be coerced into being a bailee.
The craftsman can thus unequivocally remove himself from the role of a bailee if he so notifies the owner, and the owner has a reasonable time to retrieve his object, words that he employs in notifying the owner of the object being ready. What is a reasonable time will depend upon the circumstances of each case as Beth Din will determine. If his demand is also coupled with a demand for payment before he releases the object, he continues to be in the roleof a paid bailee until the object is released. The intent of the craftsman can often be determined from the words that he employs in notifying the owner of the object being ready.
A similar situation exists if Reuven seeks the advice of Shimon, a prominent member of the business community; on whether to lend money to Levi. Or Reuven is about to sell merchandise to Levi on credit and seeks Shimon's advice on whether he thinks that Levi will pay for the merchandise. Shimon assures Reuven that Levi will repay the loan or will pay for the merchandise. Levi fails to repay the loan or fails to pay for the merchandise. If (1) Reuven stated to Shimon that he relies upon him before he extends a loan or credit to Levi, or if Shimon could have inferred this from Reuven's question, and (2) the question was posed to Shimon not in the presence of Levi, or with the knowledge of Levi, only then is Shimon liable to Reuven as if he were a guarantor of the indebtedness of Levi. It is assumed that if Levi was present or knew about the request of Reuven to Shimon that Shimon would have a favorable response regarding Levi.
An appraiser is asked by a creditor to appraise merchandise that he is to take as collateral from a debtor. If the appraiser was paid for the appraisal or if he volunteered to appraise the merchandise, he is liable to the creditor if he made an erroneous appraisal.
A scribe, for a fee, wrote a Torah scroll for Reuven, who paid the scribe. Later, errors were discovered in the Torah scroll such as a misformed letter, an extra letter, a missing letter or word, two letters joined together, and many other details that render a Torah scroll unusable for public reading in the synagogue. A Torah scroll cannot be used for public reading of the Torah if it contains even one error. When errors are discovered, the Torah scroll is removed from the reading platform, another Torah scroll is substituted, and the error is thereafter corrected. Reuven then employed a second scribe to correct the errors. The liability of the first scribe is usually fixed by community practice, such as the original scribe making the corrections with or without fee, according to the practice. Lacking such practice, if the errors are the type of errors that a scribe might make in this monumental work of writing a Torah scroll, then the first scribe has no liability to Reuven. If the amount and type of errors are unusual, then the first scribe must pay to Reuven the expense of the second scribe.
The subject matter of this lesson is more fully discussed in volume IX chapters 306 of A Restatement of Rabbinic Civil Law by E. Quint. Copies of all volumes can be purchased via email: firstname.lastname@example.org and via website: www.israelbooks.com and at local Judaica bookstores. Questions to email@example.com