Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Original “No Fault” Approach To Accidents Exodus 21:35-36

“And if one man’s ox hurts another’s so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox.  Or if it is known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not confined it, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall become his.”
 
This to me looks like the original version of “no fault” accidents policy that many jurisdictions have today.  If two oxen belonging to two different individuals get into a goring battle between them and one of them dies, then both owners jointly sell the ox that stays alive and equally divide the money they receive for it.  With both being involved in the sale, there was a greater chance of the deal being honest and fair.  And in keeping with earlier principles that God had given the Israelites, the two owners also divide the carcass of the dead ox.
But those approaches are only implemented in the case where neither ox ‘had a record’ of previous such accidents.  Clearly, since no one could correctly assess which ox was to blame for causing the fight, both owners could be said to have benefitted and also both may have lost. (The idea reminds me a little of the story of the two women who each claimed before wise Solomon that they were the mother of a baby they both wanted.  Not being able to carry out DNA tests at the time, Solomon dictated a very unusual solution – simply cut the baby in half.  Of course, Solomon knew exactly what he was suggesting because the real mother would rather give the baby to the other woman than to see it killed.)
But where one of the oxen (and it implies the one that remains alive) had a previous ‘goring record’ or a habit of goring other oxen or people, then the owner of that animal incurs the entire blame and compensates the owner of the other animal.  Not unlike how our courts approach the establishment of blame today.
Is there a lesson here for us?  I think so.  The commentator Robert Jamieson suggests this principle led to laws in certain eastern regions that were intended to inspire caution in us, and help us to “keep noxious animals under restraint”.  As a minimum, we should heed that caution.  Commentator David Guzik suggests that this principle was God’s way of helping us deal with human negligence.  He goes on to imply that these various laws were intended as instructions to judges who were to adjudicate matters between the Israelites.  As such, the judges were required to investigate, to the extent possible, any wrongful intent and then to rule accordingly keeping fairness as the goal.
Those principles can well be applied to the responsibilities of parents or grandparents who are often asked to break up an argument or a fight between siblings.  Our goal should be to investigate and then to act fairly.  Finally, supervisors, managers, and owners can apply these principles where their subordinate employees (assuming there are no labor unions involved) are at odds with each other.  In all these circumstances, the “no fault” decision may be appropriate, but sometimes through observance and investigation we may conclude it is not.  As ‘judges’ of the behavior of others where we rightfully have that responsibility (e.g. as parents or employers), we can only pray that we would have Solomon’s type of wisdom to adjudicate fairly and virtuously.

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