Rabbi Meir Orlian
The rustic town of Oldsville drew crowds of visitors in the summer months. Among the tourist attractions was Yankel’s stable.
Yankel owned three fine horses, which he would charge visitors to ride through the cobblestone streets. Twice a day he would hitch one of the horses to a wagon that held eight passengers for a horse-and-buggy ride.
One afternoon, Feivel came to rent a horse. He ran up to one of the horses, and the startled horse kicked him in the leg. To add insult to injury, the horse then relieved itself, soiling Feivel.
Furious, Feivel pushed the horse. The horse, which was standing beside a low wall, lost its balance and fell over. It landed with a thud, and one of its legs smashed against the wall.
Yankel called the vet. “This leg is badly broken,” the vet pronounced, after examining the horse. “Such a break will never heal properly on its own. Without an operation, the horse will not be able to gallop or pull a wagon anymore.”
“You owe me damages for injuring the horse,” Yankel told Feivel. “There’s the $2,500 veterinarian’s fee, plus the loss of income from the horse for the remainder of the summer. If not for you, that horse would have brought in a net profit of $1,000 for the month.”
“How much is the whole horse worth?” argued Feivel. “Go sell the horse and I’ll pay the difference to buy a new one.”
“I’m not out to sell my horse,” Yankel retorted. “I’d like it back in shape.”
“All I care about is how much the horse was worth before, and how much it’s worth now,” said Feivel. “The difference is the damage. The rest is your issue, not mine.”
Is Feivel required to compensate Yankel only for the reduction in the horse’s actual value, or is he required to reimburse him for the horse’s medical bills and lost income as well?
The Torah (Shemos 21:19) requires a person who injures another to pay his medical costs (ripui) and reimburse him for his lost wages while recuperating (sheves). If an animal injures a person, however, its owner is not liable for ripui and sheves, and is required to pay only for the damage of the person’s permanent disability (nezek) (C.M. 420:3; 405:1).
Tosafos (Gittin 42b) writes that some similarly exempt a person who injures an animal from the resulting medical costs and from the owner’s loss of daily income. The Shach (388:39), based on the Mordechai, explains that these are considered grama (indirect damage), and the Torah obligates a person to pay ripui and sheves only in the case of human injury.
However, Tosafos cite the view of Rabbeinu Chaim Cohen that the loss of income is calculated as part of the nezek payment, since the animal is worth less on the market due to its inability to work now.
Shulchan Aruch and Rema rule in accordance with the opinion that exempts, but the Shach considers the issue an unresolved dispute (sefeika d’dina). Nevertheless, since the exemption is rooted in grama, a moral obligation for reimbursement would apparently remain even according to the view that exempts (C.M. 307:6, 340:2; Shach 307:5, 340:4; Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 11:6).
Moreover, later authorities (Yeshuos Yaakov and Chazon Ish, in his conclusion) rule – against the simple reading of the Shulchan Aruch – that the person who injured the animal is liable for impending medical expenses that reduce the animal’s current value on the market. Similarly, Nesivos writes that if the injury will not heal without medical intervention, the person who inflicted it is responsible to pay to restore the animal to its former state just as he would be liable for repairing any other property damage (Pischei Teshuvah 307:3; Chazon Ish, B.K. 13:8, 10; Nesivos 340:4).
Verdict: There is no direct monetary payment for ripuy – medical expenses to heal the horse. However, Feivel is liable for the horse’s loss of value, including loss due to impending medical expenses, and has at least a moral obligation to pay Yankel for loss of potential income.