A Project of the Business Halacha Institute
Under the auspices of HaRav Chaim Kohn
Submitted by C. D. Feldman
The Dentist Dilemma
My dentist’s secretary called. She is not sure what happened, but they just received a $325 check from me in the mail that was dated August 2006! Since the check was obviously written to pay for services at the office and it was apparently never cashed, they want a new $325 check to pay for the services for which we haven’t paid. I searched through my financial records for 2006 and didn’t find any record of an outstanding bill to the dentist. My family has been going to the dentist regularly all this time and we were never told that we had an outstanding balance.
Q: Am I obligated to pay the dentist, since he has circumstantial evidence of an office visit for which we did not pay?
A: First, some background. In order for one to be able to collect any sort of disputed debt he must produce evidence of the existence of the debt. Generally, this is done by producing witness testimony or a signed document wherein the debtor agrees to pay for something. There is a discussion concerning the reliability of a record of a debt found in one’s ledger. Are they considered reliable and can they be used to force one to pay or not? Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 91:5) writes that a person’s financial records are considered reliable. This reliability is so strong that when there is additional evidence that lends credibility to the record one could even collect from orphans. Chazal took great pains to protect the financial interests of orphans since they are often ignorant of their father’s business dealings and not sophisticated or experienced enough to immediately understand the complexities of business. If financial records are sufficient to collect money from orphans it seems they are considered definitive proof of a debt. The question we must ask is whether the check, in our case, qualifies as a record from the patient that he owes the dentist money. One could argue that the check should be considered proof since the check was made out to the dentist and never cashed. This assertion, however, is incorrect. An uncashed check does not constitute sufficient evidence that one owe’s money since it is possible that the check was lost and had been replaced. This possibility inhibits the dentist from making a definitive claim against you. As such, unless the dentist is able to produce more definitive proof that there is an unpaid bill you are not obligated to replace the $325.
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(YWN Desk – NYC)