Delays as Force Majeure

Sometimes, a few innocuous looking words speaks volumes about differences in culture.

TimeA District Court judge recently rejected a class action suit filed against Israeli Railways for repeated delays in train service (see here – in Hebrew). The claimant sought damages for the economic losses resulting from the chronic delays and cancellations. The reasons the judge gave for rejecting the claim are very revealing.

The judge wrote that he “feels” that Israeli Railways publishes timetables that are known to be false. They know fully well that the trains won’t make this schedule and there will be inevitable delays on a daily basis. The judge could not verify his “feeling” because the authorities would not disclose the full information about train delays.

Now comes the punch line. The judge wrote (my free translation):

“The reality in Israel today is that the train schedule is only an approximation and not a binding commitment. Those who use public transportation know ahead of time there is a likelihood of delay. Nobody really expects the bus will arrive on time at the bus stop”.

And he continues:

“When a person makes an appointment to see a doctor, perhaps he really hopes to see the doctor at that time. Maybe in other countries the doctor will receive him at the appointed time. But in reality every person knows that if they have a ten o’clock appointment, the likelihood is the doctor will receive them at a later time”.

How about that? The judge’s words reflect a view that accepts delays as an inevitable curse, a kind of natural disaster that is beyond the capabilities of humans to prevent. He has singlehandedly made a new addition to the force majeure clause in legal parlance: public transportation delays. Alongside earthquakes, floods and other acts of God.

But the judge is not to blame. He is merely reflecting a culture that has no respect for timeliness and punctuality. A culture that tramples the precious time of others. We Israelis grow up accepting delays and procrastination as facts of life; “after the holidays” (אחרי החגים) has become a widely used idiom. We are, after all, a Middle Eastern country sitting on the shores of the Mediterranean…

I’m not saying we should be like the Japanese, who go to extreme lengths to be punctual. But perhaps in this matter we can be a little more like the Japanese and a little less like our neighbours. Is that too much to ask for?

By the way. The claim was filed in 2007. Why is nobody here surprised it took the court four years to issue a verdict?

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