Liability question, just interested in how people see things.

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  • #615643

    blubluh
    Participant

    I plan to ask a real posek, but I am curious to see how people in general see things.

    A person with a technology business asked me to examine a computer laptop for hardware repair (physical damage) and provide an estimate, which is something I’ve done for him in the past.

    In this case, the laptop is owned by a third party who asked the tech guy to do the work (in other words, I’m a sub-contractor to the tech guy).

    I came back with an estimate, quoting labor fee plus parts. The tech guy responded that he’d ask the laptop owner what he wanted to do (have it repaired or not).

    I stated that the labor charge stands even if the person decides against the repair, since the labor is the same whether I use the broken parts or new (diagnosing the problem required disassembling the laptop, which will need to be reassembled before I return it).

    My questions are:

    1 – Should the owner decide against repair and refuse to pay the labor charge, does the tech guy then have the right to refuse to pay me the labor charge, too?

    2 – If I refuse to return the laptop until I’m paid, does the laptop owner have “standing” (in the legal sense) to take me to beis din to return his property or is my halachic relationship confined to the tech guy alone?

    3 – In the event that the answer to question #2 is “yes”, is my defense that I have no business relationship with the third party (the laptop owner) sufficient to let me hang on to the property until I’m compensated or does

    his clear “ownership” trump any potential fees due me?

    Thanks.

    #1154144

    Joseph
    Participant

    You’re asking the question from a halachic legal perspective not a non-Jewish law perspective.

    What is the common understanding in business when a consumer brings a computer in for an estimate? My understanding is that he’s asking for a cost estimate before he commits to any service or cost he is to incur. Thus neither the end consumer nor the middleman business obligated themselves to you by simply asking you for an estimate. Unless you told him in advance there is a cost to simply render an estimate even if he chooses not to use your services. Or there is a general common understanding that people are expected to pay for an estimate even if they elect not to have the repair service. I don’t believe the latter is the case.

    Thus:

    1. Yes.

    2. Yes. You are holding the laptop owner’s property. You cannot hold his property against his will.

    3. No. Doubly so no because even if the middleman businessman who gave you the laptop did owe you money for your service, you have no relationship with the end-user owner so you cannot hold the third-party’s (i.e. the end-user consumer) property for a debt the middleman business has with you.

    #1154145

    Joseph
    Participant

    blubluh: What was the end resolution of this case?

    Did you follow my psak?

    #1154146

    Avram in MD
    Participant

    Totally agree with Joseph here. Unless there’s a service charge stated up front (such as when the heating/cooling company charges $70 just to come to your house to look at the A/C), the general assumption is that estimates are a proposal for the cost of work, and are free.

    #1154147

    akuperma
    Participant

    Is it not the commercial custom that an estimate of repairs, made by the person who will do the repairs, is in fact an offer to make the repairs, which the other party may reject or accept? The estimate, is really a “bid” (or in common parlance, a “free estimate”). If in fact the person is acting as a consultant, then wouldn’t the consultancy fee have to be arranged in advance?

    Either halacha or American law will look to the local custom. In my experience, estimates are offers to repair at a certain price, not consultations generating a fee.

    #1154148

    oomis
    Participant

    I am scared to admit it in writing, but JOSEPH MAKES TOTAL SENSE. (There, I feel better, now). Generally, unless otherwise stated, an estimate is free.The owner gave his laptop to someone presumably for tech repair,who instead of dealing with the issue, subbed it out to you. That is not the fault or achrayus of the owner. Your friend is the one with whom you have an issue, and even if so, did you inform him there would be an estimate fee? You have no legal right to hold onto the other guy’s property, IMO.

    #1154149

    blubluh
    Participant

    For those still interested in the disposition of this case, yes, the resolution was like Joseph suggested and I returned the item without compensation.

    I asked the question here to hear how others feel about the issue since, honestly, my gripe was an emotional one, not a halachic one (yes, I admit that my feelings don’t always coincide with halacha. That’s why I go to posek with such questions rather than do whatever I think is right.)

    It just seemed unfair to me that I spent time on something with no compensation. The answer is that my notions of fairness are not halachically valid.

    B’hatzlacha to all.

    #1154150

    Avi K
    Participant

    Blubuh, that is the chance you take when you accept a request for an estimate without asking for an examination fee (which I believe is the custom). What about a case that occurred in an office in which I worked: A repairman was called in to fix the microfilm machine. He came and saw that the only problem was that the lens was not in place. He charged $25 (almost forty years ago) for making an office call.

    #1154151

    Joseph
    Participant

    Glad to have paskened. You’ll know where to reach me the next time a shaila comes up. 🙂

    #1154152

    Mammele
    Participant

    Avi K: these things happen all the time. It’s up to you to make sure the batteries are fresh, equipment plugged in and turned on, circuit breaker on etc. before you call a tech guy. If you miss something basic or are simply unaware, you’re paying for the guy’s time, travel etc. and/expertise. And yes, it takes expertise to know what to look out for first, second etc. That’s how troubleshooting works. Worse is when the guy is dishonest and pretends to fix a non-existent problem so that he can overcharge you, when he’s actually just “moving the lens” (in your case) into place.

    #1154153

    Mammele
    Participant

    Also, be aware that for every case of what you may think is “easy money” there may be a few losses like in blubluh’s scenario.

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