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Indirect Damage According to Halacha

Rabbi Yosef Greenwald

Case: I was looking at my phone while driving [big mistake], and veered off into the next lane. A Jew driving next to me swerved to avoid my car and hit the guardrail, badly damaging his car. 

Question: Do I have to pay for his damage? If I caused an accident but was not directly involved, do I have to pay for the damage?

Answer: Yes, you must pay for it. One who causes damage indirectly, a grama, is a classic case of chayav bidei shamayim. There are two kinds of remedies in monetary Torah law. Typical obligations are collectable in Bais Din. This includes unpaid debts, undelivered goods, property infringement, direct damages and the like. This remedy is not available to a grama, a case where the damage cannot be attributed directly to the action of a person or his possessions. 

The other remedy is that of Chayav bidei shamayim, accountable to the standards of Heaven. Unlike lifnim mishuras hadin, beyond the letter of the law, Chayav bidei shamayim is an actual chiyuv, one must pay it, the only difference in this chiyuv is that it is not collectable in Bais Din. One who causes damage, but he did so indirectly, is held accountable for it bidei shamayim.

Although Bais Din cannot force payment, it is incumbent upon them to persuade the person to pay, even shaming him publicly if necessary. A person who refuses to pay may be called a Rasha, a wicked person, and is possul l’aidus, disqualified from giving testimony until he pays. 

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