In everyday English a “nuisance” is something annoying, inconvenient or an aggravation. As the Oxford dictionary defines it:
“A person or thing causing inconvenience or annoyance: it’s a nuisance having all those people clomping through the house. I hope you’re not going to make a nuisance of yourself”
But if you read a bit further in the same dictionary, the word has a further, far more legal meaning:
“An act which is harmful or offensive to the public or a member of it and for which there is a legal remedy.”
If we dig deeper in our law books, we find that there is in fact a tort of “nuisance”. It is now generally divided into two areas of public and private nuisance. Public nuisance is today also related to criminal law, but private nuisance deals mostly with interference with the use or enjoyment of land or real property. In New Zealand in summer this may mean water scaping from a neighbour’s swimming pooling and flooding your lawn. In other places it may relate to loud music, noise, strong smells, pollutants, chemical accidents or swarms of bees from external sources preventing land from being used and, as a result, damage or injury being caused.
One of the early landmark cases in this area is Bamford v Turnley (1860) 3 B & S 62; 122 ER 25, in which is the defendants burnt bricks in a kiln and thereby sent noxious fumes into the surrounding countryside, affecting various neighbours. The neighbours complained to the court of feeling sick, attacks of nausea and servants who could not work because they were ill. As a result the neighbours sued to prevent the nuisance. Although on the facts the court held the use was reasonable (!), the legal concept of nuisance was nevertheless confirmed.
Fast forwarding to 2015, it was therefore a big surprise for me to encounter what appears to be a close Civil Law relative of nuisance in a different century, different jurisdiction, different language and for a different purpose. The law is flexible and adapts to changing times. The everyday problems of the 21st century do not relate so much to poorly servants and making bricks but to cars and parking issues.
When exiting a supermarket car park in Tyrol, Austria a few days ago I was interested in a sign with the usual pictogram threatening illegal parkers with being towed away and then a rather long sentence with the reference to “Besitzstörungsklage §339 ABGB.” (The German equivalent would be perhaps be under §862 Civil Code (BGB)?) After glancing at the Austrian Civil Code and looking at a couple of cases and legal comments it seems to me this is pretty close to a Common Law tort of nuisance or unreasonable interference with the use of land.
This all goes to show you that even the legal world is a small place! Or, perhaps I should say, (with humble apologies to Shakespeare) “all the world is a car park and we are but the parkers.”