Legally, the term “nuisance” is traditionally used in three ways:
- to describe an activity or condition that is harmful or annoying to others (example- indecent conduct, a rubbish heap or a smoking chimney)
- to describe the harm caused by the before-mentioned activity or condition (example- loud noises or objectionable odors)
- to describe a legal liability (responsibility) that arises from the combination of the two.
The law of nuisance was created to stop such bothersome activities or conduct when they unreasonably interfered either with the rights of other private landowners (example- private nuisance) or with the rights of the general public (example-public nuisance).
The tort of nuisance allows a claimant (formerly plaintiff) to sue for most acts that interfere with their use and enjoyment of their land. A good example of this is in the case of Jones v Powell. A brewery made stinking vapors which wafted onto a neighbor's property, damaging his papers. As he was a landowner, the neighbor sued in nuisance for this damage. But Whitelocke J, speaking for the Court of the King's Bench, said that because the water supply was contaminated, it was better that the neighbor's documents were risked. He said "it is better that they should be spoiled than that the common wealth stand in need of good liquor." Nowadays, interfering with neighbors' property is not looked upon so kindly. Nuisance deals with all kinds of things that spoil a landowner's enjoyment of his property.
A subset of nuisance is known as the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher, where a dam burst into a coal mine shaft. So a dangerous escape of some hazard, including water, fire, or animals means strict liability in nuisance. This is subject only to a remoteness cap, familiar from negligence when the event is unusual and unpredictable. This was the case where chemicals from a factory seeped through a floor into the water table, contaminating East Anglia's water reservoirs.
Free market environmentalists would like to expand tort damage claims into pollution (example-toxic torts) and environmental protection.