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Thought for the Day: Paying for Lost Wages Resulting From Damages

I had a research advisor who started his freshman physics classes with the following two "jokes".  First, he would explain that physics is about solving problems.  "Perhaps," he would muse aloud, "You don't like problem solving.  Perhaps, in fact, you prefer creating problems.  In that case, you are in the wrong building; you need to head over to the Mrak Hall (the admin building)."  (Yes, it was (and probably is still) spelled "Mrak".)  The second joke was, "Some people say there is no such thing as a stupid question.  They are wrong."

I have "joke" quotationmarkified (that's "mark", not "mrak"), because they were as much warning as jokes.  I have spent my career eschewing administrative roles as much as possible (still managed to cause plenty of problems, though...)  And to avoid stupid questions; that's definitely a work in in progress (at least, I hope I am making progress).  My experience with stupid questions extends well beyond the confines of physics.  When it comes to Torah, I figure that if it's not a stupid question, eventually I will see it asked by someone.  (If I never see it asked, that's also good information and helps me to refine my question asking process.)  It is always gratifying, therefore, when I see a question asked that has bothered me for a long time.

There are, of course, five categories of damages that a person (aka, the mazik) must pay to someone (aka, the nizak) whom the mazik has damaged.  There is (1) the actual cost of the damage, (2) medical bills, (3) physical pain, (4) embarrassment (emotional pain), and (5) lost wages.  (2) is easy to calculate.  (3) is also straightforward; basically, how much would the nizak pay to be anesthetized while having the damage done.  I suppose (4) is easier than ever in today's sue-happy generation.  (1) is tricky, but straightforward, ask how much the nizak was worth on the slave auction block before the damage and how much afterwards.  Slavery is unlawful in many parts of the world, but you can still find pockets where it is legal.  (Not Saudi Arabia anymore, apparently they abolished it in 1962; officially, anyway...)

What about lost wages, though?  If a taxi driver is blinded in an accident, how do you figure lost wages?  He certainly can't drive taxi anymore!  And how much wages were lost?  Does it depend on how old he is?  Do you need actuarial tables?

The basic answer (see Bava Kama 84a, ff) is that the lost wages payment is only for the time he is in unable to work at all due to to the physical damage.  Once he is able to work again -- at any job, no matter how menial -- then the payments stop.  How much do you pay him?  For that amount he would have made at that menial job.  How is that fair?  See (1).  Apparently a lot goes into deciding the value of a slave, including the kind of work he can be expected to perform, for how long, and so forth.  Tosafos (as elucidated by the Maharsha; or at least as far as I understand what any of them is saying) is that the rule of "any work, no matter how menial" refers to someone who has no particular skills.  Someone who has skills, however, will be paid at that rate.  There is still some discussion about whether he gets paid during the time he is laid up according to the rate he made before the damage or the rate he will be able to make now that he has been damaged (in cases where that rate is different and the damage is permanent).

Whew.  I feel just a little less stupider than I was yesterday.  Not a bad day's work!


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