Tort Law – Nuisance

  • Last updated Jul 21, 2016 5:06:55 PM
  • By Billy Sexton, Editor,

Nuisance. What a great word. Just say it again. Nuisance. Oh yeah!

The last time you heard the word nuisance being said was probably when your parents were complaining about how much of a nuisance it was to load their car up and cart you off to university. That time, and also your tort law lectures earlier this year (which you have completely forgotten – uh oh!).

Causing a nuisance is a tort in English law, and nuisance can be both private and public.

Private nuisance

Private nuisance, as defined in Bamford v Turnley 1860, amounts to “any continuous activity or state of affairs causing a substantial and unreasonable interference with a [claimant's] land or his use or enjoyment of that land.” The person affected must have a legal interest in the land, therefore meaning that tenants of properties are protected from private nuisance. Exceptions have been made, such as in Khorasandjian v Bush 1993, where it was ruled that a woman living in her mother’s house was entitled to an injunction to prevent telephone harassment. This was later overruled in Hunter v Canary Wharf 1998.

The creator of the nuisance is liable for private nuisance. Generally, therefore, your landlord is not liable for the racket you make every Saturday night. However, an exception may be made if your water pipes are ridiculously loud and the landlord knew about this problem before you moved in.

For there to be a claim, the claimant must be able to show that damaged was caused. This can be physical damage, discomfort or inconvenience. Interference is usually a result of continuous events and cam amount to physical invasion, noise or smells. It is not an interference when ‘things of delight’ are affected. This was discussed in Hunter v Canary Wharf 1998, where it was argued that a TV signal being blocked by the construction of a skyscraper was a nuisance.

Nuisance must also be unreasonable, but this varies case by case. For instance, locality must be taken into account, as must the time of day. Noisy road works taking place in the middle of Oxford Street is a lot different to the same road works taking place in a rural village. Similarly, time must be considered; road works are less unreasonable at midday then they are at 11pm.

Nuisance is one of the exceptions to the rule that malice is not relevant in tort law. In Christie v Davey 1893, it was ruled that the defendant was deliberately creating a noise in order to frustrate the claimants.

Public nuisance

Public nuisance is a tort and a crime. It “materially affects the reasonable comfort and convenience of life of a class of Her Majesty's subjects.” So what amounts to public nuisance? Picketing in the road, as under Thomas v NUM, is a public nuisance, as is disrupting traffic by queueing in the road. Public nuisance is initially a crime rather than a tort; only if the claimant can prove that they suffered “special damage” over and above the effects on the other people affected.

Defences & remedies

An Act of God is accepted as a defence to nuisance. There is also the 20-year prescription rule, whereby if a private nuisance continues for 20 years, it becomes legal so long as the defendant can show it has been continuous and the claimant has been aware. Another defence is obviously related to statutory authority. If activity has been authorised by legislation, this defends it from causing a public or private nuisance.

Three remedies are possible when it comes to nuisance: injunctions, damages and abatement. An injunction is an order to stop the nuisance. Damages is obviously money paid by the defendant to the claimant and abatement allows the claimant to directly end the nuisance, such as trimming back a hedge.

So, don’t be a nuisance guys! You may find yourself in hot water because of it. 

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