A nuisance is something that causes an annoyance. There are two types of nuisance claims under the law. If a nuisance causes problems to the general public, it's classified as a public nuisance. If it interferes with the right of a specific person or entity, it is considered a private nuisance.
Common law is law that has been created by judges through historical court cases. Torts deal with civil wrongs for which you can sue others under the common law. Nuisance laws have evolved under common law tort interpretations across different jurisdictions (states).
The common law tort of private nuisance protects a person's right to the enjoyment and use of property. It includes the enjoyment of the land and free use of the real property owned by that person. A few examples of private nuisances are:
- Vibrations and loud noises
- Pollution of a stream or soil
- Smoke or foul odors
- Excessive light
Private nuisance lawsuits typically arise between neighbors. One property owner is negatively affected by the unreasonable interference of a neighbor. This article explains the elements that a plaintiff must prove in order to win a private nuisance case or cause of action.
The Elements of a Private Nuisance Lawsuit
Property owners have a right to the enjoyment and use of land. In the event that another party interferes with that right, there may be an actionable nuisance. For instance, a neighbor regularly plays their music at maximum volume late at night. Here, an affected property owner can sue the interfering party.
If the intrusion is physical, a property owner may be able to sue under the legal theory of trespass. If trespass laws do not apply, but there is still interference, a property owner may be able to sue under the theory of private nuisance. Talking to your neighbor about the nuisance is usually the best first step before bringing a nuisance action. They may not fully realize the effects of their actions.
While jurisdictions may vary on their definition of a private nuisance, a plaintiff must typically prove the following elements under state law:
- The plaintiff owns the land or has the right to possess their own property;
- The defendant's actions interfere with the plaintiff's enjoyment and use of their property rights; and
- The defendant's interference was substantial and unreasonable
To better understand when there is a claim for a private nuisance under the law of torts, it's important to understand the elements. The first element is self-explanatory—only a person who has an interest in the affected property can file a claim. As for the second element, it's important to understand that the defendant's acts can be intentional, negligent, or reckless.
The third element is meant to prevent people from suing for petty annoyances. In determining if a particular interference is substantial, the court will apply a standard of an ordinary person. The court looks at the ability of a reasonable person to take enjoyment of the property. If a property owner has a particular sensitivity to odors, that might not be enough. A plaintiff's individual sensitivities may not mean a defendant's actions constitute substantial interference.
As for whether the defendant's conduct was unreasonable, the court will apply a balancing test. The test weighs the harm caused by the conduct against the burden of preventing the harm. It also looks at the usefulness and reasonableness of the act. For example, a defendant whose actions negatively affect property values may be found to have interfered.
What a Court May Award You
Compensatory damages: If you suffer property damage, injuries to your person, and/or emotional distress, you can recover money. Compensatory damages are designed to make you whole and can cover different types of damages. Depending on what you're seeking to recover, a court will want to see:
- Replacement costs
- Market values of affected property
- Medical records or bills
Injunctions: Nuisance as a form of property damage may warrant swift legal action. A court may provide injunctive relief to protect a plaintiff's use or enjoyment of his property. An injunction is a court order requiring a defendant to stop doing something. It can prevent the loss of real estate use and even avoid potential physical injury from a continuing nuisance.
Costs and fees: Some courts may also award you the fees you incurred bringing your lawsuit.
Bothered by a Private Nuisance? Discuss Your Options With an Attorney
It can be frustrating to feel like you can't peacefully enjoy your property. You may be wondering whether you have a valid private nuisance claim. You might also be concerned that someone has filed a private nuisance claim against you. In these cases, you may want to contact a local personal injury attorney experienced in property disputes to discuss your options and obtain legal advice.
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Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.