Thursday, October 08, 2009

Getting the Wrong Clothes from a Dry Cleaner

The members of our beis midrash became engrossed in an unusual din Torah because of its direct connection to our sugya. Reuven collected his suit from a dry cleaner and paid for it but was shocked to discover that the suit was not his! He asserted that he was quite sure it wasn’t his and demanded compensation, whereas the cleaner insisted that Reuven had given him the very same suit to be serviced.

The beis din hearing the case based their verdict on our sugya: Our Gemora addresses the possibility of a person, similar to our Reuven, giving a garment to a worker, such as a cleaner, dyer or tailor, to be professionally serviced. If the professional returns him another’s article, claiming it’s Reuven’s, the latter must not use it.

Rambam adds that he must not use the other’s belongings till that person “returns the missing item and takes his own” (Hilchos Gezeilah VaAveidah, 6:6). In other words, Reuven may take the article home but must not use it, and should wait for its owner to appear with his missing property.

Now, if Reuven is forbidden to use the article, why must he take it home? Why can’t he blame the professional for losing his garment and demand compensation? Surely he recognizes his clothing better than anyone, so why don’t we believe his claim?

Still, the general rule of torts applies even here: “Anyone demanding payment or property must produce evidence.” Reuven must show clear proof that the article is his and the cleaner, having been paid for his usual service, does not have to remunerate him. Nonetheless, Reuven is forbidden to use the item: He knows it’s not his and must not use another’s property without permission (Piskei Din Yerushalayim, Dinei Mamonos Uveirurei Yahadus, V, p. 141).