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Do I Need to Pay for Dance Lessons I Cannot Attend?

Do I Need to Pay for Dance Lessons I Cannot Attend?

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Question:

I signed my daughter up for 16 dance classes. The classes are given to a small group of girls, and provide a lot of individualized attention. The total cost of the classes was $560. I worked out a payment schedule with the instructor to pay in two installments, with half the money up front and the remainder postdated for two months from the first class.

My daughter really enjoyed the classes, and was eager to attend each week. But after the fourth class, she fell and injured her foot. Her foot is now in a cast, and obviously she cannot participate in any more dance classes.

I asked the instructor for a refund, but she refused, saying the payment was for the entire series, whether or not my daughter attended. I intend to call my bank and cancel the postdated check, even though the instructor has told me that this is not within my rights either.

Who is in the right, according to the Torah?

Answer:

In order to answer your question, there are two aspects of Jewish law that we need to consider. The first is what you are actually obligated to do, and the second is what is called lifnim mishurat hadin, being meritorious and going beyond the letter of the law. We’ll discuss obligations first.

According to Jewish law, if you hire a private teacher for your child, and then the child unexpectedly1 becomes There are two aspects of Jewish law that we need to considersick or dies, you are not obligated to pay the teacher or worker for any uncompleted work.2

At first glance it would seem that the same law would apply here, and you would not be obligated to pay the dance instructor for any lessons that your daughter does not take. However, since you prepaid for all the dance lessons, we are dealing with a very different scenario.

In this case, I would point to another Jewish law. If you hire and prepay a shipowner to transport barrels of wine to a specific location, and then the ship—together with the wine—sinks in middle of the ocean, the shipowner is not required to return the money he was paid. Since you gave him the money beforehand, despite the fact that you weren’t obligated to pay until all the work was done, you intended that the worker acquire the money immediately. If the worker is not able to complete the original job due to unforeseen circumstances, you can give him another job, but he doesn’t have to refund the money.3

Based on the above law, since you already prepaid for the dance lessons, the instructor is not obligated to return the money for the unattended lessons, despite the fact that your daughter injured her foot.

However, you mentioned that you paid with two checks, and one of them was postdated. The question now becomes: what is the status of the second postdated check? Can you cancel it or not?

If the class does not have limited space or require a minimum amount of students, and therefore the instructor does not incur a loss for the dance classes that your daughter doesn’t attend,4 you could cancel the second check. The only reason the instructor is not obligated to return the first check is because giving money in advance shows that you want the person to acquire that money immediately; however, the very fact that this second check is postdated shows that it was not part of the plan that the instructor acquire the remaining money right away.5

So, you’re both partially right. She can keep the prepaid money, and you can cancel the postdated check. But as I mentioned earlier, You’re both partially rightthere is another level of awareness, that of going beyond the letter of the law. We find a fascinating incident in the Talmud that illustrates this idea:6

Some porters [negligently] broke a barrel of wine belonging to Rabbah, the son of Rabbi Huna. He then seized their garments [as escrow to pay for the barrels]; so they went and complained to Rav. “Return them their garments,” he ordered. “Is that the law!?” [Rabbah] inquired. “Indeed,” he rejoined, “‘That you should walk in the way of good men.’”7 Their garments having been returned, they observed, “We are poor men, have worked all day, and are in need; are we to get nothing?” “Go and pay them,” he ordered. “Is that the law!?” he asked. “Indeed,” was his reply: “‘and keep the path of the righteous.’”8

Although the teacher is not obligated to refund your prepaid money, if she did not sustain any real loss by not having your daughter in the class, refunding your money for the unattended classes would be considered the meritorious thing to do.9

Footnotes
1.
If the child would get sick often, and it was not totally unexpected, then you would be obligated to pay the teacher. This article, however, is addressing only situations that were unexpected and beyond your control.
2.
Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 334:4.
3.
See Talmud, Bava Metzia 79a–b; Tosafos ibid., s.v. Ei Atah; Terumas Hadeshen 329; Pischei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 334:2.
4.
If this were the case, then you would be obligated to pay some amount. However, the exact amount would need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 333:2.
5.
Minchas Tzvi, p. 76.
6.
Talmud, Bava Metzia 83a.
8.
Conclusion of the above verse.
9.
Minchas Tzvi, vol. 2, 1:53.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Jerry M K Minneapolis via chabadminneapolis.com November 21, 2014

Read The Contract I would have to say that Fruma, from Delray Beach, FL has it right.

But ultimately, it's the contract that prevails.

The lady complaining didn't mention if there was a signed contract. I believe there was and it probably states no money is refundable regardless if the student gets injured, sick or otherwise.

So whether it's a signed contract or verbal contract each presented with a non-refundable clause, the woman is not entitled to a refund and it would be wrong to stop the postdated check. Reply

Anonymous Kanata, ON via theotc.org November 7, 2014

My reading of the above was that the Mother had NOT paid for all of her daughter's dancing classes before her daughter broke her foot. There was a "payment schedule". Half was paid in advance (8 of the 16 classes) while the remaining 8 classes were paid for by post-dated cheque, dated two months later. The daughter took 4 classes before her injury, or 25% of the entire program. The Mother had paid 50% of the cost of the entire 16 lesson program. I would say the contract was "frustrated", meaning it could not be completed, due to an intervening event, unknowable at the time of the contract. The teacher received a 50% profit on the 8 paid lessons, which were not taken. That is her compensation. The Mother, in my view, owes the teacher nothing further, unless there is "an exemption clause" within the contract, sometimes called "an exculpatory clause". Both the Mother and the teacher are already sustaining a loss. Reply

Fruma Delray Beach, FL December 11, 2013

Empty place Such classes always have limitations in the number of students they can take. Accepting your child meant some other child didn't get into the class. You cannot, legally or ethically, make the school pay for your daughter's illness/injury that they didn't cause. If you buy a theater ticket and then don't go, the theater would not rationally refund your payment. Your seat remains empty. Why should someone else pay for your misfortune? Reply

Steph Santa Monica, CA November 19, 2013

Personally, I don't think G_d would approve the behaviour of either the parent or the teacher. Both are acting out of selfish self-interest. This is not so much a problem of law as it is morals and ethics. I don't have to repeat what's already been said, but there is a way to resolve the issue correctly...figure it out. Reply

Anonymous Chatsworth, CA via chabadchatsworth.com November 15, 2013

contract issue the teacher is ready, willing and able to perform her contract. The girl, unfortunately, (through an act of G-d or her own negligence) cannot attend. The installment payment was the teacher's attempt to make the class affordable for the parents. Is her generosity supposed to hit her in the pocket? No. A contract is a contract and if one side forfeits his obligation, the money is forfeited too. Reply

Anonymous November 14, 2013

Returning the post dated check seems the decent thing to do I can understand her not refunding part of the first check (covering the 1st to 8th classes) even though your daughter had to stop after the 4th: Firstly, because there is some inconvenience to her having planned for your daughter as student, secondly because she may have already used the money and it would be hardship at this point for her to have to return it. However, I see no reason for her to keep the second, post dated check for the 9th to the 16th class- when your daughter became unable to attend dance classes through no fault of her own after the 4th class (unless as the Rabbi pointed out she needed your daughter in order to open the class at all). Other than that, the refusal to give back the dated check under such circumstances seems harsh. Whatever happens, don't dwell on it too much because, at least, it is not a case of outright theft and there's room to assume that she was in need. May your daughter have a refuah shelaima! Reply

Gangsta Hamen Seattle November 14, 2013

Interesting problem. If the teacher is losing out because she could have filled the space, then it's a loss. However, if the teacher can agree to letting the girl return and finish the lessons after she heals, that seems equitable. Either way, a lot of money to keep based on policy. The girl injured herself in class and all the teacher can say is tough luck you forfeit the enrollment fee. In my judgement the teacher needs to refund the money. Otherwise, If I were the parent I'd go to small claims. And I'd certainly tell people thinking about taking the class your experience so they can be forewarned. Reply

Frances Rochester, New York via chabadrochester.com November 14, 2013

if the teacher won't refund or give credit... I have taken a lot of dance classes in my life...if the teacher is good and your daughter is at a high level, she will get a lot out of attending the classes with her cast, staying seated and paying attention to the corrections that the teacher gives to the rest of the students. She will be kinesthetically participating which means activating the brain pathways that that work when someone does the actual movements. She could also do the arm movements from a seated position, and maybe do something with the good leg, for some of the barre work, if she is creative and inventive about her body position so that she doesn't stress the fractured leg. Reply

Anonymous November 13, 2013

Fairness The teacher should be paid as per contract signed. It would be extremely unfair for you to put a stop payment on those cheques.
If you wouldn't have asked for a refund I believe that the teacher may have offered
some make up classes when your daughter feels physically well to return to her ballet class. I hope you can amicalbly resolve it. Reply

Gangstah Hamen Washington DC November 13, 2013

Can she sue the teacher because the daughter fell and broke her foot...then offer to drop the suit in exchange for the 2nd post dated check :) Reply

shelley usa November 13, 2013

the dance class and the possibility of refund actually there is another option. why not suggest that as your daughter obviously can not attend due to her injury at this present time ask for a postponement to another class series.I am sure that the teacher if she is a good business person will find a way to work with you. Reply

Anonymous November 13, 2013

Given the situation, I'd instead have wondered whether the law would allow for a compromise, allowing the teacher to offer a future spot in a class for the missed sessions in lieu of a refund, or to apply it to a future class. I also agree, it being a small semi privte class, that the payment should be honored. Reply

Linda November 13, 2013

I am a ballet teacher as well... I would have refund your money. For it is the right thing to do....Then maybe your child would return when she was better Reply

Mendy Brownstein November 13, 2013

What is the law of the land? Isn't that also a factor? Reply

Yoni Toronto November 13, 2013

I am a lawyer and amateur Torah student. I am not satisfied with your answer. Is it possible that we have extrapolated incorrectly for the purposes of teaching Talmud.
The terms of the contract between the parties will likely address the issue and we are obligated to honor contracts that we enter into. The reasons for installment payments are not clear; perhaps that is done for the students' benefit, to better absorb the cost of the lessons.
I think the morally upright move is for both parties to become conciliatory. The teacher could offer a refund or credit for future lessons. The student could offer to forego the loss or find a replacement student. In either event, I believe the Torah teaches us that this is really an opportunity for two parties to find a mutually beneficial resolution. Reply

Anonymous New Mexico November 13, 2013

Have you forgot emuna? It is already decided how much money you are to have. If someone takes advantage of you unjustly Ha Shem will repay you. The loss is to the person who had the opportunity to receive emuna righteously but chose an unjust path. Reply

Anonymous Israel November 13, 2013

dina dmalchuta I would have thought that in a case like this of contract law, dina dmalchuta would apply.

Did the parties agree to take disputes to Bet Din or did they make a contract according to local law? If the contract was agreed upon under the law of the land then it appears to me that the parties are obligated to fulfill (or not) the contract according to the law of the land. Why should your Talmudic precedent be applicable to this case? Reply

shifra sharfstein atlanta November 12, 2013

What a difficult situation! Can you ask the teacher if your daughter can use the credit towards more classes in the future, (when her foot is healed or possibly for the next round of classes)? Reply

David Aharon Lindzon-Lindsay Toronto Ontario, Canada November 12, 2013

My remarks in General Assuming that This case requires a treatment by the Beis Din's decision as the final din, the Beis Din could add a possible way to go Lifnim nmishurat Hadin example Reuben owes $ 100 to Shimon the Beis Din could say to Shimon. Would you be willing to forgive say $25 of the debt if Reuben agree to pay you $75 within 3 months of say Teves 10 by 10 Adar II. If Shimon agrees to it Reuben, might be able to Pay maybe $ 95 off. Reply

Peggy Walt Halifax, Nova Scotia November 12, 2013

Paying for dance classes Hello from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I work in the arts, and I have friends who are dance teachers. My daughter was also a dance student. Artists work very hard usually for very little pay. Their contributions to us and our society are much greater than the monetary rewards they are given. Usually dance or music schools work out a payment plan not because they anticipate that you will not use the lessons coming up later, but as a way to lessen the hardship on parents to pay all at once. In this instance, you are only delaying what should have been paid upfront - a full year of classes. It's possible that based on the number of students who could be accepted, someone else was denied a place in the class. This the dance teacher's living wage. What if all students had injuries? How would the dance teacher pay her bills, feed her family, if everyone could just stop the cheques? I think that the teacher should expect to be paid; but in exceptional circumstances, could offer a refund. Reply