A Cup and Coffee

Question

Chezkel went to visit friends from abroad who were staying in a local
luxury hotel. As he was walking briskly through the lobby, he accidentally
bumped into a waiter carrying a hot cup of coffee on a tray. The coffee
spilled on the floor, and the cup broke. The hotel manager rushed over to
Chezkel and demanded that he pay $10 for the coffee, this being the price
charged in the hotel, as well as $15 for a new cup. Chezkel replied that he
is prepared to pay genuine compensation for any damage that he caused, but
not these exorbitant prices. Since he never ordered or received any service
from the hotel, he is only willing to pay for the cost of a hot cup of this
quality of coffee as prepared at home—about 10 cents. As regards the cup, he
can obtain the same item for $3 at a local store. How much does he really
have to pay?


Answer

Reuven wishes to repay a loan with goods. These goods are
sold for a higher price at the annual fair, which takes place in a month’s
time. Reuven wants the lender to accept these goods according to their
higher value at the fair. The Shulchan Oruch (Choshen
Mishpot
101:9) rules that the goods are to be valued at their present
(lower) local value (see also Ibid. 109:1). This illustrates the general
principle that when estimating the value of goods, we go according to their
present local value, even if they are worth more in a different location or
at another time.

Porters were transporting a barrel of wine. They broke
the barrel. This barrel of wine is sold for 5 zuz on market day, but
only for 4 zuz on other days. How much do they have to pay? Rovo
rules (Tractate Bovo Metzia 99b) that it all depends on which day
they pay for the barrel. If they pay on market day, they must pay 5 zuz;
if they pay on another day, they only need to pay 4 zuz. (The Vilna
Gaon adds that this rule only applies if compensation is paid in the form of
money. However, if they repay with another barrel of equivalent wine, this
will suffice on any day.) Rovo adds that the porters are entitled to
deduct any costs that were saved from their payment (e.g. the cost of
fitting a tap to the barrel prior to selling). We can derive two principles
from this case: (1) The price obtainable for any item in its present
location is regarded as its real value. It does not matter if the present
location happens to be a wholesale market, the high street retail price
being much higher. Local supply and demand is what determines the price. (2)
Certain expenses are incurred when selling goods. If the goods are damaged
or destroyed, these costs are avoided. Whoever has to pay compensation is
entitled to deduct these savings from the compensation he must pay to his
victim.

Applying these rules to our case, when assessing the value of the cup of
coffee we must look at the location where it was destroyed. A cup of coffee
is indeed sold for $10 in this hotel, so it would seem that this is what
Chezkel must pay. However, this price includes service charges. Since
Chezkel did not receive any services, he may deduct these charges from the
amount to be paid. He only has to pay the actual cost of a cup of coffee in
a luxury hotel. Hotels serve food and drink; they do not (usually) sell
china. Therefore, when assessing the value of the broken cup, we do not look
at its value in the hotel. Cups are sold in local stores. Chezkel would only
have to pay the $3, if he can actually find the same cup locally for that
price. He could also go out and buy a replacement cup and present it to the
hotel. He could also save himself more money by filling the cup with coffee
of equivalent quality to that which he spilled (as per the Vilna Gaon
mentioned above)!