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Tort - Private nuisance I

Updated on July 18, 2017

There are two types of nuisance in English Law: -

  • Private nuisance and
  • Public nuisance

Private Nuisance

Private nuisance is defined as an interference wholly or in part with the right of one person to enjoy the rights over his or her land or property by another person. The element of foreseeability and damage, the prerequisites to bringing an action or a claim in tort, must be satisfied.

In other words, it must be foreseeable that the interference will cause some sort of discomfort or displeasure to the user and that discomfort has resulted in some type of damage.

In instances of property damage, the damage must be the type of damage that ordinarily results from the act and is not peculiar to the item or the chattel.

In Robinson v Kilvert (1889) the defendant and the plaintiff were both in business. The defendant who used the basement to produce paper boxes rented out the first floor of his premises to the plaintiff. The plaintiff used the premises he had rented from the defendant to store paper.

The defendant’s business required an unusually dry place and the basement was accordingly kept continuously dry. This can easily be done by keeping the heater on – gas heaters especially result in a warm atmosphere. The heat damaged the paper that the plaintiff had stored and the plaintiff sued.

During the trial, it was discovered that the paper that the plaintiff had stored was of an unusual type and the heat that was released from the basement would not have caused damage to any other type of paper with the exception of the kind or type that was stored by the plaintiff.

The court held that the defendant was not liable because the type of paper was not that which is usually stored or used. The defendant or any other person for that matter can be expected to foresee damage to normal paper but the chances or possibilities are slim that they can foresee damage to the rare or special type of paper that was stored by the defendant.

No claim would arise if it was reasonable to act in the manner that the defendant did. In Harrison v Southwark and Vauxhall Water (1891) the defendants carried out construction works during the day and the work was only temporary. The plaintiff brought an action against the defendant for nuisance but it was held that the work that was carried out by the defendant, despite the discomfort that was caused to the plaintiff, was something that happened in the course of day to day living.

Local councils and other authorities have a duty, normally imposed by law, and without doubt they may while ensuring that they comply with the duties that are imposed on them cause some sort of discomfort to the plaintiff or others like him but as long as that duty is complied with in a reasonable manner or in a manner that is deemed fitting or appropriate than the work that is carried out by the council or the authority will not be construed as nuisance.

If the act was done with malice or was done to aggravate the defendant than it would be interpreted as nuisance. In Christie v Davey (1893) the plaintiff was giving music lessons, in his house, which is normally something that is done during the normal hours of the day and the defendant his neighbor tried to put a stop to it by banging on the wall and beating on tin pans. The plaintiff sought a remedy in court and the court found for the plaintiff. The defendant’s actions, whatever the reason, were merely done to aggravate the plaintiff.

However, if the duty is carried out in an unreasonable manner or in an inappropriate manner the law will intervene on behalf of the plaintiff. In De Keyser’s Royal Hotel v Spicer Bros (1914) the defendants were preparing the foundations for a new building and the work included driving piles into the ground. The work was carried out in the night. It started just after dinner and continued until dawn. The plaintiff brought an action against the defendants in court on the grounds that the plaintiff was unable to sleep because of the loud booming noise that resulted from the piling works.

The claimant was successful. The court granted an injunction to stop the piling works because they were not carried out in the proper manner.

If the act causes prolonged and continues interference with the right to enjoy one’s property then the courts will classify it or categorize it as nuisance. In Adams v Ursell (1913) the defendant operated a fish and chips shop on his premises. The odors that emanated from the cooking carried to his neighbor’s home, the plaintiff, who brought an action in court seeking redress. The court found for the plaintiff and held that such regular and frequent odors constituted nuisance.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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