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Tort-Private Nuisance VII

Updated on July 30, 2017

Verbal abuse and other threatening or intimidating gestures are not actionable in nuisance because these acts fall outside the scope of nuisance.

In Hussain v Lancaster City Council (1999) the plaintiffs owned a shop and a residence in a housing estate belonging to the defendants, the council. The plaintiffs suffered various types of abuses, mostly verbal, and the plaintiffs made numerous complaints to the council.

The council in all fairness sent out letters threatening to evict the perpetrators but that did not stop the abuse and the council was not prepared to carry out its threat of eviction. The plaintiffs turned to the court.

The court decided, despite the fact that the plaintiffs had a proprietary interest in the property it was outside the scope of nuisance.

A claim in nuisance will also fail if it was beyond the resources of the defendant to rectify the damage that was caused especially if the damage was caused by a natural calamity. In Holbeck Hall Hotel Limited v Scarborough Borough Council (2000) the plaintiffs were owners of a four-star hotel that was located close to the sea and next to land owned by the council, the defendants, that stretched all the way to the coast. There was a massive landslide on the defendants’ land that was beyond rectification and as a consequence the hotel that was owned by the plaintiffs was declared unsafe and had to be demolished. The plaintiffs sued.

The court held that despite the decisions in Goldman v Hargrave (1967) and Leakey & Ors v National Trust (1980) the plaintiffs were unable to claim because it would place a strain on the council’s resources.

In Leakey & Ors v National Trust (1980) the defendants adduced evidence to show that the damage to the adjoining properties occurred naturally but the facts in Leakey may be distinguished from the facts in Holbeck in that, in the former it was possible to rectify the problem prior to it causing serious property damage to the plaintiff’s property. It was the decision of the trust not to do so and not to take up the plaintiff’s offer to pay for part of the costs.

In Jones Ltd v Portsmouth City Council (2002) the plaintiffs owned a business and there were trees planted along the pavement. The roots of the tree subsequently caused damage to the plaintiffs’ premises and the plaintiff brought an action against the council who were responsible for the maintenance of the area outside the plaintiffs’ business premises.

The court in line with the decisions in Goldman v Hargrave (1967) and Leakey & Ors v National Trust (1980) found for the plaintiffs and held that the council owed the plaintiff a duty of care and had breached that duty of care by allowing the roots of the trees that were planted along the pavement to grow to the extent that the roots caused damage to the plaintiffs’ property.

In Dennis v Ministry of Defense (2003) we examine the scope of nuisance in lieu of public interest. The plaintiff lived close to an air force base and found that the noise made by air force jets that were taking off and landing to be a disturbance. The plaintiff brought an action in court seeking an injunction to prevent the disturbance.

The court held that while it was foreseeable that the noise made by the air force jets would be a nuisance, public interests outweighed private interests and the court refused to grant an injunction. The plaintiff was unsuccessful.

Similarly, in Network Rail v Morris (2004) the plaintiffs owned a recording studio which was situated close to a railway station. Initially there was no disturbance but the railway authorities later installed a new signaling system and that interfered with the electronic equipment especially some of the instruments that the defendants used in their studio. The defendants brought the matter before the courts.

It was held that despite the fact that the signaling system interfered with the equipment that the defendants used in their studios, public interests outweighed the defendants’ proprietary interests and the defendants were unsuccessful in their claim.

With nuisance, as in other areas of tort, there is normally a willingness to allow a lesser evil for a greater good especially if that greater good is going to be beneficial to the residents of a locality or a community.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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