Whose Winning Bottle-Cap?

Question

Simcha made his son’s bar mitzvah
celebration at home. He served liberal quantities of Supasoda, which was
on special offer at the local supermarket. Berel was a guest at this
function. He poured out a glass of Supasoda for his neighbor and another
one for himself. While closing the bottle, he observed a symbol inside the
cap. On examining the label, he discovered that he had found the
bottle-cap with the prize-winning symbol – five thousand dollars!
However, he wonders whose bottle-cap this is. Perhaps it belongs to Simcha,
since it was found in his house, which automatically acquires it for him
(through a kinyan chotzeir)? On the other hand, we could regard it
as ownerless property, since one can assume that Simcha had no interest in
acquiring empty bottles. If this is the case, Berel wishes to keep it for
himself.

While they are discussing the problem, along comes Chaim,
who tells them that he has a similar problem. He went to try on a new suit
and found a hundred-dollar bill in the pocket. Does it belong to him or to
the shopkeeper (but not to the one who lost it – see answer)?


Answer

The Mordechai (Bovo Kamo 258) writes that when
we say that a person’s courtyard automatically acquires any item which
lands in it for him, this does not apply to items which (a) are not
usually found in such locations or (b) which the owner of the courtyard
had no intention of acquiring or (c) if he had no reason to be aware of
this article being there more than other people. Our case would seem to
fall into category (b), since we can assume that Simcha was interested in
the contents of the soda bottles, and not the bottle caps. This would also
seem to be the opinion of the Remo (Choshen Mishpot 268:3), who
rules that if an unusual item lands in someone’s private yard and a
stranger took it before the owner of the yard was aware of it being there,
this stranger is entitled to keep it. Once the owner becomes aware of it
having landed (and he wishes to acquire it), the stranger has no right to
take it.

Applying these principles to our case, if Simcha was
aware of the special offer when he bought the soda, we assume he had the
intention of acquiring the bottle tops together with the soda. He may have
executed the acquisition through lifting the crates of drink (hagbo’oh)
or when he (or anyone else) put them down in his house (kinyan chotzeir).
Even if he only found out about the offer once the soda was in his house,
if he then had the intention that his house should acquire the tops for
him, they are his. However, if he was totally unaware of the offer and a
guest (who did know about the offer) took the prize-winning cap for
himself, then the guest is the legal owner. The fact that Simcha’s
children were aware of the offer does not help their father attain
ownership, since they are not the owners of the house. It would be
possible for them to acquire the bottle caps in their own right, since the
law is that if a minor finds a lost article, he may keep it for himself.

Regarding the money that Chaim found in the suit, even though one
generally acquires that which lands in one’s domain, a shop is
different. Since there are so many people passing through the shop, the
shopkeeper does not rely on being able to acquire what lands in the area
frequented by customers. If the item found has no simmon
(distinguishing mark), whoever finds it may keep it. The owner is assumed
to have despaired of being able to retrieve his property since he can not
identify it. (See Shach to Choshen Mishpot 260, Note 18.)
Money is considered as not having a simmon. Although every banknote
has a number, people are not in the habit of paying attention to this.
Many customers try on suits. Potential buyers do not usually check the
pockets. Neither does the shopkeeper. Whoever finds the money, can keep
it. Chaim may not have found a suit, but he has gained one hundred
dollars!