What is Nuisance in tort?

Nuisance in English law is an area of tort law broadly divided into two torts; private nuisance, where the actions of the defendant are “causing a substantial and unreasonable interference with a [claimant]’s land or his/her use or enjoyment of that land”, and public nuisance, where the defendant’s actions “materially affects the reasonable comfort and convenience of life of a class of Her Majesty’s subjects”; public nuisance is also a crime. Each tort requires the claimant to prove that the defendant’s actions caused interference, which was unreasonable, and in some situations the intention of the defendant may also be taken into account.

Private nuisance was defined in Bamford v Turnley, where George Wilshere, 1st Baron Bramwell defined it as “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”. Private nuisance, unlike public, is only a tort, and damages for personal injuries are not recoverable.

Public nuisance concerns protecting the public, unlike private, which protects an individual. As such it is not only a tort but also a crime. There are a large range of issues which can be dealt with through public nuisance, including picketing on a road, blocking a canal or disrupting traffic by queuing in a road.

A significant difference is that private nuisance does not allow a claimant to claim for any personal injury suffered, while public nuisance does. Another difference between private and public nuisance is that under public, one can claim for personal injuries as well as damage to property. Another difference is that public nuisance is primarily a crime; it only becomes a tort if the claimant can prove that they suffered “special damage” over and above the effects on the other affected people in the “class”.

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