The Imprisoned Ladder

Question

Sheftel and Fishel, who each own a shop in the same
mall, were making renovations. Sheftel’s decorator brought a ladder to
help him paint. Fishel asked whether his decorator could also use the
ladder. Sheftel agreed, but stipulated that it must be returned at the end
of the day. Unfortunately, the ladder remained locked inside Fishel’s shop
overnight. When Sheftel’s worker arrived the next morning, he had to wait
two hours till Fishel arrived and released the ladder. Sheftel claims that
Fishel should pay him for the loss of time, since he has to pay his worker
even if he sits idle. Is Fishel obligated to pay?


Answer

If Reuven gave Shimon money to invest on his behalf and
Shimon failed to do so, Reuven has no financial claim against him. He may
be dissatisfied with Shimon’s behaviour, but there is no other recourse
available to him. The Yerushalmi (Tractate Bovo Metzia 5:3)
derives a principle from this case; one who prevents a person from using
his money is not responsible for the resultant loss of earnings. The Shulchan
Oruch (Choshen Mishpot 183:1) quotes this ruling. Why is one
not liable for the financial loss caused by withholding another person’s
money? The reason is simple. If a person causes direct damage, the Torah
obligates him to compensate his victim. However, the rule is that one is
exempt from paying for damage which is caused indirectly (gromo
benizokin potur
). The Rosh (Bovo Kamo 2:6) writes that
if one throws a person out of his house and prevents him from entering by
locking the door, one is not liable for the resultant loss since it is
indirectly caused. He bases his ruling on the Yerushalmi quoted
above. We see that there is no difference between withholding a person’s
money or other items of his property. (However, see Teshuvos Chovos
Yo’ir
151 and SeMaG, Positive Commandment No.82.)

Reuven took up residence in Shimon’s apartment without
Shimon’s permission. Does he have to pay rent to Shimon? The Shulchan
Oruch
(Choshen Mishpot 363:6) rules that if apartments similar
to Shimon’s were usually rented out, Reuven is liable to pay rent. Even
though Shimon does not usually rent out his apartment, the fact that it is
potentially available for rental places denial of this opportunity in the
category of “causing a financial loss.” This is in line with the
opinion of the Remah, quoted by the Tur. The Tur
mentions that his father, the Rosh (quoted above), disagrees with
this ruling and exempts the squatter from payment. The Bach asks on
the Rosh that his view does not seem to be in line with the ruling
of our Sages in Tractate Bovo Kamo (85b). They explain that it is
possible to incur liability for causing loss of earnings even though no
bodily harm has been caused if one locked the victim in a room and
prevented him from going out to work. Even though the damage is indirect,
financial liability still exists. Why is locking him out of his house any
different? The Ketzos HaChoshen (363:3) answers that although the
basic rule remains that one is exempt from paying for indirectly caused
damage, when this comes about through one man taking hold of another and
imprisoning him, the Torah teaches us that he is liable. This new concept
is limited to man harming man. When man damages another man’s property,
the standard rule applies.

We can therefore conclude that since Fishel indirectly
caused Sheftel a loss by withholding his property, he is not
obligated to compensate him. Had he locked Sheftel inside his store and
prevented him from working, he would have been liable. Furthermore, one
should note that even though Beis Din do not exact payment for
indirect damage, there is a moral obligation to pay (see Me’iri to Bovo
Kamo
56a).