Rabbi Meir Orlian
“Super Summer Sale!” boasted the sign flapping above Tony’s used-car dealership.
Jacob browsed the cars, finally choosing a five-year-old Buick with relatively low mileage and an attractive price.
“What’s the story with the engine?” Jacob asked Tony Rodriguez, the dealer.
“We check all our cars before offering them for sale,” answered Tony, “but you’re welcome to take it to your mechanic for inspection.”
Jacob drove the car over to Mark Hyman, his mechanic.
“Good morning,” Mark greeted him. “You got a new car?”
“Hopefully,” Jacob answered. “I just saw this at Tony’s. I won’t buy it, though, without an inspection.”
“I’ll give the car a thorough check and take it for a spin,” said Mark. “We charge $120 for a pre-purchase inspection, which includes a printed report. Come back at 4:00 PM.”
When Jacob returned, Mark told him: “I ran all the tests. There are one or two hoses that needed tightening, but overall, the car is in fine mechanical condition.” He handed Jacob the printed report.
Jacob returned to Tony’s. They finalized the deal, filled out the necessary papers, and Jacob took the car home.
During the subsequent week, Jacob noticed that after about thirty minutes of driving, the needle of the temperature gauge would begin climbing. On a long weekend trip to the mountains, the warning light lit up on the way there and back.
Jacob took the car back to Mark. “I’m worried about the car,” he said. “It’s fine for short driving, but whenever it’s driven for a long time, it begins to overheat.”
“I’ll take another look at it,” said Mark.
Mark called back later that day. “It seems that there is a fissure in the radiator that got overlooked in the inspection,” he said. “It has to be replaced, or you risk burning the whole engine. Replacing the radiator costs $450.”
“Could this fissure have happened after the inspection?” Jacob asked.
“Unlikely,” replied Mark. “We checked the radiator, but somehow missed the fissure.”
“Had I known this, I wouldn’t have bought the car,” sighed Jacob.
“Well, there’s nothing to do now,” said Mark. “I doubt that Tony will take it back.”
“Then it doesn’t seem fair that I should have to pay you for the repair,” said Jacob.
“What does one thing have to do with the other?” asked Mark.
“You caused this loss,” said Jacob. “I relied on your inspection when I bought the car.”
“I didn’t make you buy the car, nor did I take responsibility for the purchase,” argued Mark. “Let’s ask Rabbi Dayan, though.”
Rabbi Dayan said, “In truth, since the car was defective in a manner atypical for its age, Tony should take the car back (C. M. 332:6,11). However, if this is not possible, Mark bears responsibility for the loss he caused through his erroneous recommendation.”
“What is the basis for this?” asked Mark.
“The Gemara (B. K. 99b) addresses the case of someone who was offered a questionable coin as payment, which he showed to a professional banker for approval,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “If the banker approved the coin, but it later turned out invalid, he is responsible for the value of the coin. This is because the person accepted the invalid coin based on the banker’s recommendation, so he is considered as having caused damage (garmi),” explained Rabbi Dayan. “The degree of responsibility depends on whether the professional was paid for his review and on his expertise.”
“How’s that?” asked Jacob.
“According to most opinions, if the professional was paid for his evaluation, he is responsible for the oversight regardless of his expertise,” said Rabbi Dayan. “There is an opinion, though, that if he is a highly experienced expert, he is exempt even if he was paid for his evaluation (C.M. 306:6; Shach 306:11). If the professional was asked to evaluate without pay, he is only responsible if he is not fully accredited. However, if he is fully accredited, the mistake is considered an oness, for which he is exempt (C.M. 306:6). It is nonetheless meritorious for a pious person to pay, beyond the letter of the law (Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 13:26).”
“This halacha seems to discourage a person from ever offering advice to a friend,” Mark commented.
“The professional is only responsible if it was made very clear that his advice was being relied upon to finalize the decision,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Certainly, if the professional specified that he should not be relied upon, he is exempt (Shach, end of 306:12).”