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You had a leak under your kitchen sink. You called someone to fix the broken pipe. The person fixes it and makes sure that the pipe no longer leaks.

You use the sink "normally" (i.e., you didn't "overload" it with grease or something that would clog the drain) and 2 days later the pipe bursts and floods your floor causing a lot of damage.

Is the repair person liable for the damage to your entire kitchen, just repairing the pipe again, or is he responsible for nothing at all, since he fixed the initial problem? In this case, assume that there is no specific written or verbal commitment that the work will last for any specific time. Is there something in halacha that implies a specific time that when someone fixes something it will last and work correctly?


Follow up based on comments:

The above is an example, not an actual happening. My question is asking for the halachic principles / theory in such cases, not a psak halacha for an actual case.

Al Berko's answer seems fine in terms of raising some of the halachic considerations. It would help to see sources.

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  • I think it's a good question, but Double AA is right in that it smacks of a shaila for a posek - have you spoken to a Rav? You don't say what type of damage happened? Was it to the floor? or did you leave your $500 blue suede shoes on the floor? If the latter, then it's probably your responsibility to not leave shoes lying around. If it's the former, then you have to work out if the damage was caused by the pipe albeit indirectly. If the pipe had not been fixed, you wouldn't have had the same extended damages? How was the leak repaired? was the entire pipe replaced? or simply blocked up? – user18323 Nov 29 '18 at 11:53
  • The plumber did not directly cause any damage to your kitchen. So at best, we're talking grama or garmi (this is a machlokes Rishonim if there are even two levels). You will have to prove that he didn't do good workmanship - you hired a professional, and he did a poor job - objectively. If he didn't, then the fact that the whole system broke down is not his responsibility. How much did you pay for the job? etc. If the pipe burst, it sounds like there was another issue and not a 'leaky pipe issue' - perhaps he didn't install the replacement correctly etc...for that he would be liable. – user18323 Nov 29 '18 at 11:57
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    Why the -1s, the question is very interesting and Halachic? – Al Berko Nov 29 '18 at 14:40
  • Hi Dan! You've asked a question in my expertise area, but I'm a drain cleaner, not a plumber.Your question depends on a lot of "ifs", like if the pipes are made of ancient rotten metal, old cracked plastic, or something advertised to help the situation made of some other odd material that they sell in stores claiming to fix the problem. If it was a solid plastic or metal repair, there should be NO reason that repair should burst. If it was my job, I would have run the water until I was SURE the line was proper and not leaking. Usually in such cases the customer is doing something VERY wrong. – Gary Nov 29 '18 at 17:43
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My answer is ONLY an outline of the algorithm of resolving such a conflict assuming both parts are observant Jews.

  1. Before discussing anything, we need to know who was that guy that "You called someone to fix the broken pipe" - was it his son, neighbor, friend, an amateur or a professional plumber. The following discussion only applies to a professional plumber that falls under a אומן category. All other just do a favor and bear no liability whatsoever even if rewarded. For example, I always warn my neighbors that all my help in plumbing or electricity or computer fixing is unprofessional and I'm not responsible for the outcomes.

  2. First, we check if there's a civil law regarding the plumber's responsibility. Theoretically, such a law might obligate all the plumbers (or car technicians or computer guys etc) to be liable for damages of the repair with certain limitations. That's דינא דמלכותא and it sets the abiding Halachah.

  3. If nothing particular is found we continue to מנהג המדינה - the practice commonly accepted by professionals in that area. That's the "implied liability" we have. One might call a couple of local professional plumbing agencies and tell them a sink leaks and ask how much will it cost. Then ask whether the repair is backed by any warranty as they see it. The chances are that many of them will explicitly mention warranty, maybe even including collateral damages, as they are all insured.
    .
    Unfortunately, many people have a misunderstanding of the common professional liabilities in many areas. For example, the content of a hard drive is not covered by reinstalling an operating system on a PC.

  4. The next step is the claim, as all the financial matters are a subject to forgiveness, the homeowner must claim the damage. He can otherwise attribute it to himself or to a lack of luck. So we need to be sure he's claiming damages.

  5. The next step is to find on whose side is the burden of proof. Here we follow the המוציא מחברו principle - meaning one who's breaking the status quo must bring the evidence. And in this case, there are two options based on the results of #2:

    • if customarily there's no warranty for repairs you have to prove that the plumber CAUSED the leak directly by פשיעה, say, cutting it badly or damaging a rubber band
    • if he's customarily held responsible for the repair, he must prove his repair was fine and the owner used the sink unconditionally or else.
  6. In the later (thanks DannyF), he might still claim that דמים יוכיחו - the price paid might be an indicator/proof of the work performed, so if he charged $20 it was probably something very minor with no warranty and the common practice does not apply to him, but for $200 you expect a lot more and a warranty.
    .
    For example, a guy gives me a computer to fix and I run CHKDSK and it fixes the problem. I charge $10 and everybody's happy. A day later he comes back and claims the computer does not work at all and turns out his disk is dead. The price he paid shows clearly that I only addressed the local problem, and the big problem is not the result of my work.

  7. If he's found liable, there's a question of liability for the collateral damages (גרמא/גרמי), like the damage made by the water. The common Halachah is that one is not liable for such damages, but still, #1 and #2 override it.

I know you expect a more Halachic answer, but I only publish it for many others that would like to know how this situation is resolved.

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    Please provide the relevant simanim and seifim in the Shulchan Aruch. If I recall, this is not a case of grama but dinei d'garmi, which the Shulchan Aruch rules is chayev medrobonan. – user18323 Nov 29 '18 at 11:50
  • @DannyF I agree, Only if proven liable, that's #2. Please help me with Simonim I'm not good with Shu"A – Al Berko Nov 29 '18 at 14:13
  • @DannyF I quoted your important comment! Thanks – Al Berko Nov 29 '18 at 14:52
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    What are you doing answering complex monetary questions if you "aren't good with Shu"A"? – Double AA Nov 29 '18 at 14:56
  • Many of your answers are often hard to follow because of the reasons mentioned in the comments above. I write this only as a plea for you to write sourced answers. – Dr. Shmuel Nov 29 '18 at 15:27

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