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What does Judaism say about product liability? That is, if I sell someone a product and — because it was manufactured

  • poorly or
  • not as advertised

— the purchaser sustains damage, to what extent am I liable? (I am thinking for example of the famous lawsuit in which someone bought a coffee, accidentally spilled it on herself, and was burned more than normally because the coffee was extraordinarily hot, but am asking more generally than about that one case.)


Edit: Assume for the sake of simplicity that the manufacturer sold the item directly to the injured party.

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It seems that one part of this question relates to the concept of "mekach taut" (a misguided sale), but that's not really the wider question of liability. (Although "lemon laws" do come close to that). I'm not putting this as an answer, though, since I feel that I'd still be missing the main part of the question. –  AviD Jan 31 '12 at 20:36
    
And btw, there was nothing extraordinary about the McDonald's coffee case... Except for the stupidity throughout the case. –  AviD Jan 31 '12 at 20:41
    
@AviD, re mekach taus, good point to mention, but that's not what I'm wondering about. –  msh210 Jan 31 '12 at 21:26
    
@AviD the extraordinary part of the coffee case was that McDonald's made a calculated risk - They decided it was cheaper to keep the coffee hotter than safe and pay off lawsuits than to sell coffee at a normal temp and not deal with them. –  Charles Koppelman Jul 16 '12 at 16:22
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Halachah distinguishes between two kinds of indirect damages: g'rama, for which one is exempt from court-imposed penalties or repayments (although he is still liable to Heavenly judgment until he makes good the loss); and garmi, for which a court of law can hold him liable. (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 386)

What distinguishes g'rama from garmi is debated - see the Hebrew Wikipedia article on גרמא בנזיקין. According to Ramban and Rosh, the damage has to be immediate and definite; according to that approach, then, most product liability cases might indeed be classified as g'rama, and the vendor would therefore not have to pay for the damages. (Take the case of the hot coffee: there was no certainty that she'd spill it on herself.)

On the other hand, Tosafos (followed by Rema, Choshen Mishpat 386:3) says that garmi can also include cases where the damage is usual (דבר שכיח ורגיל); in that case, perhaps in at least some such cases the vendor would indeed be liable for the damages. (In the example of the coffee, they'd previously been warned that their coffee was hotter than necessary and was likely to cause severe burns.)

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+1, excellent, thanks. –  msh210 Jan 31 '12 at 21:25
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