Taken For A Ride

Question

Chezky wished to
ensure that he arrived at his friend’s wedding on time. He therefore decided
to take a taxi instead of the bus, which traveled along a roundabout route.
The taxi driver, seeing that his passenger was new to the district, decided
to take advantage of his ignorance. He drove along the longwinded bus route.
Chezky soon realized that he had not
gained any time by taking the taxi. When the taxi driver asked him for the
seventy-five shekels shown on the meter, he refused to pay. Chezky argued
that the purpose of traveling by taxi rather than by bus was solely in order
to arrive earlier. Since he would have reached the wedding hall just as
quickly by bus, he was not prepared to pay more than the five-shekel bus
fare. Is his argument valid?


Answer

When you hire a
worker to perform a certain job at a prearranged price, he is entitled to
full payment on completing the work. He is obligated to carry out the work;
you are equally obligated to fulfil your side of the deal and pay him in
full, on time. However, if he deviates from your instructions, your previous
contract is no longer binding. He did not perform the work as agreed; you are
therefore under no obligation to pay him the agreed sum. How much does the
worker receive under such circumstances? Our Sages inform us that the
employer only has to pay according to
the actual amount of benefit he received.

The source of this
law is a mishna
in Tractate Bovo Kamo (100b). Reuven employed a dyer
to dye his wool black. The dyer dyed it red instead.
Rebbi Yehudah
rules that if the dyer’s expenses exceed the value added to the wool by
dyeing it the wrong color, he only receives the added value. If the situation
is the opposite, he is again only entitled to the lesser sum.
Rashi
(ad loco) explains that we penalize the worker for deviating from the
employer’s instructions. He denied the employer his full expected benefit. He
is therefore not even automatically entitled to full reimbursement of his
expenses. (This principle is explained in detail in Tractate
Bovo Metzia 76a).

When Chezky hailed a
taxi, he was also employing a worker. The taxi driver took on an obligation
to drive Chezky to the wedding hall by the direct route. In return, Chezky
agreed to pay him for his work
according to the meter reading. By giving Chezky an unguided tour of the
neighborhood, the driver was deviating from his instructions. As a result,
the previous contract is no longer valid. The meter reading can no longer be
accepted as the basis for payment. We now have to reassess what benefit Chezky actually derived from the taxi ride.

If Chezky’s sole motive in preferring the taxi to the bus was in order to arrive faster,
then he would be justified in only paying the bus fare. What’s more, says Rav
Tzvi Spitz (Mishptei Hatorah, Bovo Kamo
No.124), if Chezky is in possession of a monthly bus pass (chofshi
chodshi
), which would entitle him to
a free bus ride, he does not have to pay the driver anything. The alternative
of traveling by bus was available to him free of charge. The taxi ride was
therefore worth nothing to him. It could be that Chezky took the extra
comfort of the ride into consideration when making his decision. In that
case, he would have to pay the driver part of the taxi fare. What proportion
he has to pay depends on the comparative levels of importance of the two factors, speed and comfort. This may be
difficult to assess. If it would have been worth his while
just
for the added comfort, he has to pay the
full
taxi fare. It should be noted that the above rules only apply if the journey
was extended on account of the driver’s negligence. If he took the direct
route but was held up in traffic jams, he is obviously not in breach of
contract. He is then entitled to the full fare.