Lesson # 264 (part two) • Use of the rented object
We continue with the topic of the laws of the lessee (renter). This time our subject is the use to which the rented object may be applied.
What if a leased object becomes damaged while in the hands of the lessee? Assuming the lender sues the borrower for the damage or destruction of the leased object. Beth Din will have to determine if the leased object was used for the purpose for which if was leased. Beth Din will ordinarily not have difficulty in determining if the lessee used the object in its normal way. Community standards, advertising, the rental contract, and common sense will often evidence if the lessee abused the object and caused damage to the object. There are a myriad of possibilities of objects that are rented. A crane leased to lift five tons should not be used to lift ten tons; a saw leased to cut lumber should not be used to cut steel. If a lessee rents a vehicle, he should not overload it. If it is to be driven over highways it should not be driven over rough roads; if it is to be driven on level roads, it should not be driven on mountainous roads. A car rented to an adult should not be driven by his minor son who has little experience in driving. If it is the custom of the trade to charge more for a minor who rents a car, such additional charge should be paid to the owner.
Where the object is to be used often is important. Also if it was used for the purpose for which it was leased. I ask the readers to understand that as is the case of most of these lessons, the codes deal mainly with leasing animals. Halacha commenced about 3,500 years ago and the advent of the automobile occurred about 100 years ago. Most of the codes, commentaries, and responsa literature, therefore, deal with objects that may seem anachronistic to those residing in some Western countries, but not necessarily so for those residing in Third-World countries. Also the next few lessons shall build on the foundations of this lesson.
Sometimes the deviation is that of route, sometimes it is that of time, as where the owner rents the car to the lessee for two days knowing that if the lessee drives the car within the speed limits it would take two days to get to the destination and back. If the lessee does the trip in less than two days he would be substantially exceeding the speed limits as a result of which he may destroy the car. In a reported case, the lessee, in Toledo, Spain, rented the animal to take him to Alsak, Spain, and back to Toledo; the owner told the lessee that the trip should take two days. The lessee went to Alsak and returned to Toledo in one day, as do most people, The owner sued the lessee for abuse of the animal, which he said would result in injury to the animal. Beth Din instructed the owner to try engage a veterinarian, and to heal the animal with medications, which the owner did; in spite of the effort the animal died 8 days later, The lessee was held responsible for the loss. When the owner told the lessee to take two days, he knew his animal, and the fact that most other animals do the trip in one day did not absolve the lessee from liability to the owner [Responsa of Rabbi Asher b. Yechiel, Germany-Spain, 1250- 1324, 92:2].
In a related case, the lessee, when leaving an inn along the route, noticed that the leased animal had become lame and nevertheless placed the usual load on the animal and the animal became permanently injured. It was held that the animal should not have been taken from the inn if there was someone who was trustworthy there who could take care of the animal until the lessee could return for the animal, and the lessee should have rented another animal at the expense of the owner of the lame animal. If there was no one there from whom to rent another animal and the lessee was under pressure to reach his destination, he is not liable even if he placed a load on the lame animal [Responsa of Rabbi Asher b. Yechiel 92:1].
The lessee rents a car or a truck and advises the owner to which place he will drive the vehicle and he drives it to another place that is different in climate, weather, temperature, or humidity, or there are almost impassable roads or other circumstances that will damage the vehicle by being driven there. The vehicle is damaged due to the deviation from the agreed-upon route; the lessee is liable if it can be proved that the deviation of route caused the damage. In cases of animals, if it can be shown that the animal died a natural death, there is no liability unless the deviation brought on the animal's death. The lessee rents an animal and advises the owner that he intends to lead it through mountainous terrain and instead leads it through a valley: The animal suffers injury through slipping. The lessee is not liable although he deviated from the agreed-upon route. However, if the animal suffers from excessive heat, the lessee is liable. If he rents the animal to lead it through a valley and instead he leads it through mountainous terrain and the animal slips, he is liable for the injuries to the animal, since slipping is more likely to occur on a mountain. However, if the animal suffers from excessive heat he is not liable, because it is less hot in the mountains than in the valley. But if the animal's heat is caused by the ascent, he is liable. If the animal is led back and forth between valley and mountain, and the animal dies of exhaustion, the lessee is liable.
Beth Din has to examine each case to determine if the deviation from the agreed-upon route causes the damage or injury because of altitude, weather conditions, humidity conditions, or any other factors that could affect the vehicle or the animal adversely.
The lessee rents a cow for plowing together with a plow to plow on the mountain, and he hires a plowman to do the plowing. The plowman plows in the valley; and the plow breaks. The lessee is free of liability and the owner may sue the plowman. If he rents the cow to plow in the valley and the plowman plows on a mountain and the plow breaks, the lessee is liable to the owner, and the lessee may sue the plowman. However, if the plowman is hired from the owner of the plow together with the plow, then the lessee has no liability to the owner.
The lessee rents an animal for threshing pulse but threshes grain with the animal and the animal slips and is injured; the lessee is not liable.
But if he rents the animal to thresh grain and he threshed pulse, and the animal slips and is injured, he is liable, because pulse is more apt to cause slipping. The Talmud records the following case: The lessee rented a donkey from the owner who said to the lessee, "Don't go to your destination by way of Nehar Pekod, where there is water on the road, but go by way of Naresh, where there is no water." The lessee went by way of Nehar Pekod and the donkey died. When he returned home he pleaded, "True, I took the road by way of Nehar Pekod but there was no water there, and the donkey died of natural causes. It was held that he was liable although there were no witnesses who could testify that he went by way of Nehar Pekod, and there was only his admission as to which road he took. Since it is well known that there is always water on the road to Nehar Pekod, it is as if there were witnesses who testified that there was water on the road.
The subject matter of this lesson is more fully discussed in volume IX chapters 308 & 309 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