A Shar-Pei dog.
A Shar-Pei dog. Photo by Rodrigo de Almeida
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El Al must compensate a passenger for mental anguish caused by her prize-winning Shar-Pei dog's escape from its cage during a flight, the Small Claims Court has ruled.

Judge Hagai Tarsi awarded the passenger, Dr. Diana Sand, NIS 2,400 compensation for mental anguish (not to worry, the dog survived ), compensation of NIS 4,000 for direct damage, and legal costs of NIS 800.

How the Shar-Pei managed to escape its cage remains a mystery, but there is no question that at some time during the El Al flight on April 24, 2011 from Sofia, Bulgaria to Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport, the dog did that very thing.

When the cargo hold was opened on the plane's arrival in Tel Aviv, the dog jumped out from the hold and fled. It scampered around the tarmac for some time until finally being caught, "bruised and with bleeding paws", as the claim put it.

Medical examination of the Shar-Pei found nasty scrapes on the pads of its front paws that required tissue removal and bandaging by a veterinarian. This cost Sand NIS 400. She also had to buy a new travel cage for the prize-winning pooch, which cost NIS 1,200.

El Al had agreed throughout to compensate Sand for her direct damage. The dispute was over compensation for mental anguish, and the question was whether the court could order it in this case.

The court evidently believed it could, based on the Montreal Treaty, which lays down the absolute responsibility of the airline for damage caused during transportation to the passenger, his luggage or his cargo.

"I have been persuaded that the entire incident involved significant mental anguish for the plaintiff," wrote Tarsi. Not only had Sand feared for the life of her pet; once she got it back it was in bad condition and required medical care. "Therefore," the judge continued, "insofar as it is within my power to rule compensation for mental anguish in this case, I believe it should be done."

The ruling had been based on the laws governing damage to cargo, explained attorneys Gil Nadal and Omer Wagner, experts on export and international trading law. In other words, in ruling on direct damage, the judge considered the dog as cargo, but in ruling on compensation for mental anguish, Tarsi evidently ascribed more importance to the nature of the specific cargo - a pet - than he would, say, to a shipment of shoes.

El Al said it would not comment on the case.

And how is the dog now? "He's fine," Sand told TheMarker, but it seems he might be traumatized too.

"He was three and a half years old when it happened," Sand said. The trip had been a great success until then; her wrinkly, Chinese-breed pet was named champion of Bulgaria, of the Balkans and of Macedonia, too, she said.

"But," Sand added, "he won't get into cages any more." She explained that competitions start early in the morning and last all day. The dogs can't be kept on leashes all that time; they spend much of it resting in cages. After that flight, however, Sand's dog refuses to get into a cage, and if he is somehow gotten inside, he becomes stressed and trembles.

So Sand and her dog aren't going to competitions, at least for the time being.

Meanwhile he's resting at home with her other dogs, including the house's No. 2 Shar-Pei.

Sunglasses have always been considered an absolute necessity in surviving the Israeli summer, as well as a fashion accessory for both men and women. Perhaps for that reason the Israeli sunglasses market is exceptionally competitive. Chains offer a host of special discounts throughout the year - even early in the season, when new collections are just being introduced.

The fierce competition stems from the large number of stores and franchises that sell sunglasses, not to mention the numerous small stalls, department stores and drugstores that have also recently started selling sunglasses, say experts at Business Data Israel. Another reason for the current market competition is the increasing availability of imports, which forces local competitors into reducing prices. Chain stores are therefore often compelled to sell sunglasses for 60 percent their original market price.

"Fierce competition in the sunglasses market forces the franchises to innovate constantly and offer competitive prices throughout the year," says Meir Rasin, CEO of Opticana, one of Israel's largest eyeglasses chains. "Two main collections are offered every year, one in March and the other in September. But the large franchises try to bring in new models during the year and sell them at competitive prices to attract customers."

Ray-Ban sunglasses, for example, have for a long time been sold for minimum profit to attract shoppers in both Israel and the world; for roughly NIS 399 instead of NIS 800. Rasin explained that the low price of the item doesn't affect company profits because sunglasses are bought so often. "In the past, hardly anyone bought more than a single pair of sunglasses a year. Now people buy two or three," he says.

Yaniv Segev, Corporate Development and Optics Manager at the pharmacy chain Super-Pharm, explains that for drugstores, selling sunglasses hardly diverts resources or affects profitability. On the other hand, sunglasses can serve as a powerful tool for attracting clientele.

"Customers walk in to buy sunglasses at an attractive price, but while they are there we can talk to them about eyeglasses and contact lenses, which are our main sources of revenue," he says.

The decision to decrease prices was made at the chain stores themselves rather than at the distributor level, says Gali Weider, the commercial manager of Luxottica Israel, the exclusive importer of brands including Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Channel, Vogue and Ray-Ban.

"Distributors didn't reduce prices," she says. "The price of imports and exports is on the rise, but the fierce competition forces business owners to make smaller profits in order to keep clientele."

Still, the sunglasses market is still considered highly profitable. According to Business Data Israel, profits from selling sunglasses in 2011 amounted to NIS 370 million. Annual revenues passed the NIS 300 million mark a long time ago, and haven't dropped since.

Tips on buying sunglasses

The competition between sunglasses chains has led to a surprising side effect: In Israel, sunglasses now cost less or about the same as in America or Europe. The only notable exception is the Israeli chain Optic Doron, which prides itself on exclusive luxury models that are not sold on discount.

To compare prices with the American and European markets, we reviewed two American and two British websites that sell sunglasses. Even where prices were lower than in Israel, when taking VAT and import costs into consideration the Israeli market still remains cheaper.

Ray-Bans that are sold in Israel for NIS 399 after discount are being sold in the U.S. for the equivalent of NIS 418, and in the UK for NIS 750. Prada sunglasses sold in Israel for NIS 799 (after discount ) are sold in the UK for the equivalent of NIS 1,038. Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses sold in Israel for NIS 668 cost the equivalent of NIS 655 in the U.S. and NIS 670 in Britain (a marginal gap if we take import taxes into account ).

If you're going to buy sunglasses in Israel, compare prices - which can save you tens to hundreds of shekels. While the comparison may be an uneasy one to make, since not every model is sold in every store, still make the effort to compare the models on sale. To make an efficient comparison, copy down the name of the model printed on the frame, call the other chains and see if they hold that model in store and how much they charge for sell it.

Lennon meets Gaga

The collections offered on sale this year show a remarkable degree of diversity in styles and design. The sunglass franchises - unlike in the fashion industry - never completely get rid of their stocks. Successful models from previous years can therefore still be found and are sold at the same price as last year.

Retro chic is in fashion for the summer of 2012. At Optic Doron you can find 1920s-style frames, 1950s feline-like frames, 1960s-style aviator sunglasses, and other round frames inspired by the 1970s look. "The John Lennon look, the round glasses - with a metal, plastic or no frame - was brought back into vogue by Lady Gaga," says a representative at the Erroca chain.

Ranit Kolikant, marketing manager at Luxottica Israel, says that this summer's signature style will probably be that of the folding sunglasses. "Compact sunglasses that fold to the size of about half a normal pair," she explains. "Prada, Ray-Ban, Dolce & Gabbana and other brand names already put out such models this season."