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St Helen’s Smelting Co v Tipping [1865] UKHL J81 House of Lords

The claimant owned a manor house with 1300 acres of land which was situated a short distance from the defendant’s copper smelting business. He brought a nuisance action against the defendant in respect of damage caused by the smelting works to their crops, trees and foliage. There were several industrial businesses in the locality including and alkali works. The defendant argued that the use of property was reasonable given the locality and the smelting works existed before the claimant purchased the property.

Held

Where there is physical damage to property, the locality principle has no relevance. It is no defence that the claimant came to the nuisance.

Lord Westbury LC:

“My Lords, in matters of this description it appears to me that it is a very desirable thing to mark the difference between an, action brought for a nuisance upon the ground that the alleged nuisance produces material injury to the property, and an action brought for a nuisance on the ground that the thing alleged to be a nuisance is productive of sensible personal discomfort. With regard to the latter, namely, the personal inconvenience and interference with one's enjoyment, one's quiet, one's personal freedom, anything that discomposes or injuriously affects the senses or the nerves, whether that may or may not be denominated a nuisance, must undoubtedly depend greatly on the circumstances of the place where the thing complained of actually occurs. If a man lives in a town, it is necessary that he should subject himself to the consequences of those operations of trade which may be carried on in his immediate locality, which are actually necessary for trade and commerce, and also for the enjoyment of property, and for the benefit of the inhabitants of the town and of the public at large. If a man lives in a street where there are numerous shops, and a shop is opened next door to him, which is carried on in a fair and reasonable way, he has no ground for complaint, because to himself individually there may arise much discomfort from the trade carried on in that shop. But when an occupation is carried on by one person in the neighbourhood of another, and the result of that trade, or occupation, or business, is a material injury to property, then there unquestionably arises a very different consideration. I think, my Lords, that in a case of that description, the submission which is required from persons living in society to that amount of discomfort which may be necessary for the legitimate and free exercise of the trade of their neighbours, would not apply to circumstances the immediate result of which is sensible injury to the value of the property.”
 
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