The concept of a nuisance dates back to the earliest formation of American tort law. Under common law, a public nuisance is an unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public. A public nuisance is distinguished from a private nuisance, which affects only a small number of people. Notice that the definition is a bit fuzzy and imprecise. Courts have used many factors to determine if a public nuisance exists as a result. In the early development of the law, a public nuisance was restricted to the harmful trades, businesses that pollute, and businesses that offend public morality.
Early nuisance jurisprudence was almost exclusively in the quasi-criminal context. It was believed that the only type of public nuisance would be one where a large number of people were injured as a result of criminal activity and that it was the duty of the government to stop the problem. The Second Restatement expanded the type of harms covered as a public nuisance that did not include quasi-criminal behavior.
Note that a nuisance must do more than bother a large number of people, there also has to be an injury or danger common to those affected. The injury must be substantial and should rise above a mere disturbance or an annoyance. There is also an unreasonableness aspect to the situation as well. Courts will typically balance the utility of the nuisance with the risks and injury associated with it.
Some torts will not fall into the public nuisance context even though they may injure a large amount of people. For instance, product liability claims will continue to be individual claims and will be brought under a different tort liability or as a class action which still preserves the character of the individual plaintiffs. In one well-known case, Detroit Board of Education v. Celotex Corporation, the plaintiffs brought suit against multiple participants in the sale of asbestos to cover the costs associated with their removal. On appeal the court found that the case ultimately cannot proceed as a public nuisance claim because the nature of a public nuisance has to do with the use and condition of property, not in the use of products. The court reasoned that the defendants gave up ownership of the products when they left their control and that there are other theories of law under which plaintiffs can recover (had they not missed the statute of limitation).
Many states have passed legislation defining what constitutes a public nuisance. Consult with a local attorney to get a specific evaluation of your case. For instance, in Illinois, 740 ILCS 105 provides a definition of a behavior that would constitute a public nuisance. This statute in particular defines an apartment used for prostitution as a public nuisance. Under this statute the attorney general has authority to have the building declared a public nuisance and may enjoin any residents or as defendants in seeking to prohibit the activity.
This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Do not rely on the above information as all cases are different and different laws apply to different cases. Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance. If you were injured in an accident involving an air carrier please call one of our attorneys at David K. Kremin & Associates, and we will give you a free consultation. We never charge unless we collect for you. Please call 1(800) ASK-A-LAWYER or 1(800)275-2529.