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When Can Plaintiffs Recover Damages For Nuisance?

Legally actionable nuisances require more than merely conduct that a homeowner, renter, or occupant of property finds “annoying” or irritating. The law establishes a test for actionable nuisances that spells out precisely what a homeowner (or plaintiff with an interest in real property impacted by the nuisance) must prove in order to obtain a remedy.

NUISANCES CAN BE REMEDIED BY DAMAGES, AN INJUNCTION, OR BOTH.

An injunction is a court order requiring someone–often, but not always, a defendant–to do or refrain from doing something.

Generally, the plaintiff in a nuisance action wants to obtain an injunction, in which the court orders the defendant to cease the activity or remedy the situation which creates the nuisance. For example, an injunction against operating a nightclub in a private home or performing construction activities in the middle of the night.

Sometimes, a plaintiff may also seek damages in the form of money to compensate the plaintiff for  injuries caused by the nuisance. Special rules exist to determine when a plaintiff can seek money damages for nuisances.

RECOVERY OF MONEY DAMAGES FOR NUISANCES REQUIRES “SUBSTANTIAL” INTERFERENCE WITH PROPERTY.

When a plaintiff seeks to recover money damages in a nuisance case, the plaintiff must prove that the nuisance objectively created “substantial interference” with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of his or her property. An objective standard means the nuisance must be of a type, and endure for a time, that people with normal health and sensibilities, living in the plaintiff’s community, would consider a substantial disturbance, annoyance, or interference. (The plaintiff cannot generally prevail if the nuisance is only substantial because of an unusual or particular sensitivity on the plaintiff’s part, where people without a similar sensitivity would not consider the action or situation to be a legally-recognizable nuisance.)

A LOWER LEVEL OF INTERFERENCE MAY SUFFICE IF PLAINTIFFS SEEK ONLY AN INJUNCTION TO STOP THE NUISANCE.

Although a claim for money damages requires substantial interference, where a plaintiff only seeks an injunction to stop the defendant from engaging in or maintaining a nuisance, the court applies a lower standard: whether the nuisance is unreasonable enough that it should be stopped. While this standard is also generally measured objectively, as opposed to based on the plaintiff’s personal opinion, “enough of a nuisance to be stopped” is normally a considerably lower standard than “substantial interference.”

Plaintiffs and attorneys should consider whether the true goal of the litigation is obtaining money damages or merely stopping the nuisance from continuing. The damages requested may impact the likelihood of success on the merits of the plaintiff’s case.

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Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR THIS WEBSITE AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Nuisance claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a nuisance claim, have had a nuisance claim asserted against you, or are involved in any other type of legal claim or matter, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.

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