A couple days ago, I was thinking about the recent fire at the landfill at County Road 390 and Pipeline Road in Bay County. It was a nuisance to many who lived in the area. They became sickened by the smoke from the fire that burned for weeks from below tons of debris. I didn't use the word "nuisance" lightly.
One of the legal theories under which cases can be brought against individuals and corporations is called nuisance. In the landfill matter, suit was impractical since the owner of the landfill had died, but in other instances, suits can be highly successful to obtain compensation for harm that results from another's interference with property or health rights. I'll give you some examples of claims that have been made.
In 2002, two property owners in Connecticut brought a nuisance action against operators of a dairy farm located less than a third of a mile from their property. They claimed that the decline in the value of their property was due to the offensive odors produced by the operators' dairy farm. In 1990, the owners of the dairy farm built a forty-two thousand square foot barn and milking parlor on their land to house a herd of dairy cows and a pit in which to store the manure from the herd.
The plaintiffs noticed odors from the farm in early 1991, but they were nothing more than typical odors generated on a livestock farm. With time, however, the odors became overpowering. They awoke the plaintiffs from their sleep and forced them to close the windows of their home. They sued, alleging that "the defendants' dairy farm generated offensive odors that unreasonably interfered with their use and enjoyment of their property."
An important part of their allegations was that the odors could have been reduced or eliminated if the defendants had used reasonably priced technology that was readily available to them. The jury found that the dairy's operators had been negligent, so the landowners were compensated for the diminished value of their property.
Other cases are also typical of nuisance claims such as claims against the owners of landfills for locating them near housing projects and then permitting hazardous waste to be dumped in them; claims against factories for creating soot, smoke, and odors that interfere with the enjoyment of nearby private property; cases against various industries for causing so much noise that nearby residents cannot sleep; claims against paper companies for emissions of smoke that is alleged to be harmful to the lungs, to cause cancer, or to damage the paint on vehicles.
A comment by the court in the dairy farm case provides some guidance to anyone who is thinking about bringing such a case. The court said, "It is the duty of every person to make a reasonable use of his own property so as to occasion no unnecessary damage or annoyance to his neighbor." I hope that today's discussion will be useful in some way instead of being, well, a nuisance.