If someone dozed off behind the wheel and caused serious injuries to his passengers, is he liable for the damages?

The premise of the question is that perhaps, because he dozed off, the driver is considered an Ones (beyond his control and therefore exonerated of any fault or negligence)


3 Answers 3


Humans are liable for damages caused while sleeping (Mishna Bava Kamma 2:6) unless they went to sleep far from things to be damaged and someone else placed something to be damaged near them (Yerushalmi ibid.).

As the Rambam puts it (Mazik 1:11):

אדם מועד לעולם בין שוגג בין מזיד בין ער בין ישן בין שכור אם חבל בחבירו או הזיק ממון חבירו משלם מן היפה שבנכסיו. במה דברים אמורים שהישן חייב לשלם בשנים שישנו כאחד ונתהפך אחד מהן והזיק את חבירו או קרע בגדו. אבל אם היה אחד ישן ובא אחר ושכב בצדו. זה שבא באחרונה הוא המועד ואם הזיקו הישן פטור. וכן אם הניח כלי בצד הישן ושברו פטור שזה שהניחו הוא המועד שפשע:‏
A man is considered mu'ad at all times - whether acting intentionally or unintentionally, whether asleep or awake or intoxicated. If he injures a colleague or damages a colleague's property, he must always reimburse him from his choicest property.

When is a person who causes damage while asleep required to make restitution? When they both went to sleep at the same time, and one turned over and injured his colleague or tore his garment. If, however, a person was sleeping and a colleague came and lay down next to him, only the one who lay down afterwards is considered mu'ad. If the person sleeping injures the one who came afterwards, he is not liable.

Similarly, if a person places a utensil next to a person who is sleeping, and the one who is sleeping breaks it, he is not liable. For the one who placed the article down was the one who was mu'ad and who acted with negligence. (translation from Chabad)

Falling asleep at the wheel is clearly not being safe, so the driver would be liable for all damages.

  • 3
    What if the person fell asleep at the wheel on the highway, and while he is sleeping, a car enters the highway in front of him? That car was placed there while he was sleeping!
    – DanF
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 14:59
  • 4
    @danf but he knew that going to sleep on a highway meant he was likely to hit something. The point of the yerushalmi is just that if you took every reasonable precaution you can't be liable for what someone else puts in a dangerous place.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 15:09

A Driver’s Liability in Halacha and Civil Law deals with the issue of automobile liability in modern times. Over and above the concept of Adam Muad Leolam. This means that even if halacha were to say patur in a particular case, the fact that a person gets a drivers license and insurance, means that he is voluntarily subjecting himself to the secular law of the state.

In the case of dozing behind the wheel, one can argue that he is chayav galus for an accidental death which would be subject to kam leh b’drabbah mineih. Indeed, the argument can be expanded to consider him a Rodef and chayav misa from the time he falls asleep until he is stopped after the accident. In that case kam leh b’drabbah mineih could apply, though the argument can also be made that as long as he has not caused a death, this would not apply. Additionally, one can argue that having voluntarily submitted himself the the traffic laws of the country, he would be chayav for damages under that category of halacha and therefore not subject to kam leh b’drabbah mineih (in this particular case).

[A Driver’s Liability in Halacha and Civil Law](http://matzav.com/a-drivers-liability-in-halacha-and-civil-law-rav-mendel-shafran-and-the-dan-bus-company/

The Mishnah Bava Kama 26a teaches:

“Adam muad l’olam, bein shogeg bein meizid, bein er bein yashen. A person has liability for all of his actions, both accidental, and intentional” Consequently, one is liable for damage caused through unsafe driving and Halachah clearly deals with damages caused by users of the public thoroughfare as will be discussed below.

In addition to this, the concept of dina demalchusa also applies.

In addition, under American Law, driving is a privilege not a right. Each state allows a driver to use public roads on the condition that he agrees to abide by all applicable traffic laws. Thus, it may be argued that by driving on public roads, one submits himself to these laws, and agrees to pay for damages he inflicts according to the law of the land.

Thus, the very fact that one is required to get insurance and a drivers license, means that he has submitted himself to the laws of the country as far as his ability to drive at all is concerned.

Furthermore the halachos of damages inflicted through car accidents are dependent on whether the mazik – damager and nizak – damaged party were acting “birshus” or “not birshus” (permitted and predictable manner or in a unpredictable manner). Traffic laws play an important role in determining what is considered birshus

As we see

Accidents caused by the violation of traffic laws are the most common instance of negligence-per-se. For example, from a legal standpoint it is easy to prove the liability of one who rear-ends another vehicle while following the other vehicle too closely. Similarly, one will likely be liable for damages caused while speeding.

The Halachah incorporates a concept similar to negligence-per-se as well. One who causes damage in the public thoroughfare while acting in an unanticipated manner will be liable, provided that the damaged party was not behaving in an unusual or unanticipated manner. See Shulchan Aruch C.M. 378-8 which rules that one who damages his fellow while running in the public domain will be liable if he damaged someone who was not running.

While the Halachos of the Shulchan Aruch operate independently of secular law, applicable traffic laws define what constitutes an act that is Birshus and what is Shelo birshus on the roads. In essence the traffic laws dictate what is considered normal behavior on the roads.

Another point would be if he is chayav misa or galus for a death caused by his actions.

It bears mentioning that, according to Halachah, if one were acting in a manner that was completely reckless, to the point of being a danger to life, he takes on the status of being a Rodef. As a Rodef he is considered chayav misa for the duration of time that his actions present a direct threat to the lives of others. In this case the principle of kam leh b’drabbah mineih applies. If the matter were being tried in a Halachic court he would essentially not be liable for damages incurred during this time because he faced the possibility of capital punishment. However, there are opinions that kam lei b’drabbah mineih does not apply in this situation because when one gets behind the wheel on today’s public roads he accepts upon himself all the rules of the road which would include the liabilities applicable under secular law.


  • Very interesting take and perspective Commented May 11, 2017 at 14:21

Rav Ovadia Yosef (יביע אומר חלק ט חושן משפט ה) wrote about the liability of a driver who fell asleep behind the wheel and caused serious injuries to the passengers.

He invokes the Talmudic concept of techila'so b'p'shiah v'sofo b'ones that a person whose negligence brought on a situation where the damage was beyond his control is still liable. Similarly, when the driver dozed off, it was obviously unintentional and beyond his control. However, getting behind the wheel with the knowledge that he had not sufficiently slept the night before is clearly negligent. Therefore, based on this concept, the driver's dozing off is viewed as negligence."

A ruling of the Ohr zaruah, supports this approach. The Ohr Zaruah ruled that a man who fell asleep on the job and allowed the item he was to be guarding to be stolen is considered negligent and liable. He explains that while fall a may be uncontrollable, the watchman knew that his job was to be awake and should have sufficiently slept before. Similarly, Rav Ovadia points out that the driver should have also made sure to have sufficient sleep before getting behind the wheel. Therefore, he is considered negligent and is liable for damages.

While falling asleep may be out of a person's control, it is only if the situation was unavoidable. However, if a person has the ability to avoid the situation where falling asleep could cause damage or death, he is fully responsible for his actions

Based on Healing in Halacha Page 107

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