Rabbi Meir Orlian
Mr. Steinberg’s sister lived in a penthouse apartment in Florida. She and her family were going away for the month of August. “We’d like to take a two-week vacation to Florida,” Mr. Steinberg said to his sister. “Would it be OK if we used your apartment while you are away?”
“We’re happy to let you use the apartment,” said Mr. Steinberg’s sister. “We’ll leave a key with the doorman. There’s a nice patio table on the porch, if you’d like to eat outside. “
One afternoon, a rainstorm began. The wind began howling, and rain poured down. The children looked out the window and watched the rain beat down on the porch.
All of a sudden, they saw the patio table being lifted by the wind. It stood suspended in the air, as if held by invisible strings, rotating slowly! The table then dropped down. The Steinbergs heard a crash and the shattering of glass below; a car alarm went off.
Mr. Steinberg ran downstairs to the ground floor. He saw that the table had fallen onto one of the cars sitting in the parking lot below.
“Just what we needed to make our vacation complete,” Mr. Steinberg muttered, with a grimace.
He returned upstairs and told his wife, “Unfortunately, the table landed on someone’s car. The table is shattered, and there’s extensive damage to the car.”
Mr. Steinberg called Rabbi Dayan. He related what happened and asked: “Who is liable for the damage to the table and the car? No one, me, my sister, the building, or the car owner’s insurance?”
“When a person borrows an apartment, he becomes responsible for any of the furniture that he intends to use,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The possession of the apartment extends to the movable furniture, based on kinyan agav (‘along with’)” (C.M. 202:1-2).
“A borrower is liable even for oness gamur, circumstances completely beyond his control,” added Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, you are liable for the broken table, even if the wind is of unexpected nature. Furthermore, a borrower becomes responsible for damage caused by the borrowed object, since it is now under his authority” (C.M. 340:1; 347:1).
“Then I guess I’m also liable for the damage to the car?” said Mr. Steinberg.
“The Gemara (B.K. 6a) teaches that a person is liable for damage caused by his object that was hurled off a roof by a normal wind,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “This is included in the category of eish (fire), which is defined as damage caused in conjunction with an external force, such as the wind. However, if the object could not have been blown by a normal wind, but was blown by an uncommon wind, the person is exempt. He had no reason to expect that it might be blown, and was not negligent in placing it there” (C.M. 411:1-2; Sma 411:1; Lechem Mishneh, Hil. Nizkei Mammon 14:16).
“What if he knew there would be strong winds?” asked Mr. Steinberg.
“If the person placed the object there when the unusual winds were already blowing, he is liable, since he was negligent in placing it there under such circumstances,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “That would also be the case if he knew a storm was approaching” (see Rama, C.M. 418:9 and 307:3).
“What about insurance coverage?” asked Mr. Steinberg.
“If the car owner has comprehensive coverage, the damage would probably be covered as an ‘act of G-d,’” replied Rabbi Dayan, “unless it was determined that the homeowner was negligent in not securing the patio table to the porch. In that case, the building’s property damage liability might still cover the damage.”