Nuisance, Trespass and Harassment claims … the future of neighbour disputes?
Whilst each neighbour dispute is different, they share a common denominator in that almost every case, claims comprise a claim for nuisance and trespass. On 12 July 2011, the Court of Appeal handed down its decision in the case of Jones and Another v Ruth and Another, a neighbour dispute. What made the case unusual is that the claim included a harassment claim.
The Claimants, a female homosexual couple, purchased a terraced property in 2002. Soon afterwards, their neighbours, the Defendants, commenced substantial works to their property which adjoined the Claimants' property. The building work continued for 5 years, during which, the Claimants alleged, their property was damaged, there was extensive noise nuisance and the Claimants were victims of anti-social and hostile behaviour on the part of the Defendants, so much so that it caused one of the Claimants to suffer psychiatric injury resulting in her being unable to work.
The Claimants issued proceedings against the Defendants, seeking damages for nuisance and trespass and were successful in obtaining an award of damages for loss of enjoyment and amenity and for the continuing nuisance (though the damages were subsequently reduced on appeal).
The Claimants also pursued a claim for damages for harassment on the basis of the Defendants` aggressive behaviour whilst one of the Claimants also sought damages for personal injury in the form of psychiatric injury, and for financial loss caused by loss of earnings on the basis that she was unable to work as a result of that injury, all of which it was claimed was a result of the harassment.
The judge at First Instance found that the Defendants had conducted a campaign of harassment. He awarded the Claimants £6,000 damages arising from the harassment suffered but did not award any damages for the personal injury and financial loss on the basis that he did not consider the harm suffered was a foreseeable consequence of the harassment.
The Court of Appeal ruled that it was irrelevant as to whether the harm was foreseeable or not, stating that what was important was whether the Defendants' behavior was deliberate and whether they knew of ought to have known that it amounted to harassment. Finding that the Defendants behaviour was deliberate and that they knew or ought to have known that it amounted to harassment, the Court of Appeal ordered the Defendants to pay damages of £115,000 for loss of earnings and £28,750 for personal injury arising from the harassment.
So, if you are about to undertake extensive building works, do you need to put aside money to settle any harassment claims by disgruntled neighbours? In the vast majority of cases, the answer will be no. The Court is unlikely to have any sympathy to a claimant bringing a harassment claim due to their neighbour doing building work for 6 months on the basis that, whilst an inconvenience, such works can for the most part be tolerated and are part and parcel of being a neighbour. If, however, the works last a number of years and are coupled with anti-social behaviour, a harassment claim may then have some merit.
It is important to remember that whilst the claim arose out of building works, it was not the building works alone that brought about the claim, rather it was the behaviour of the Defendant. The harassment claim could have been brought in the context of any neighbour dispute. Whether harassment claims now become the norm in neighbour disputes, only time will tell.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.