The meaning of the term nuisance has taken many different forms over the years and is often very vague in its definition. In general, the term is characterized by a simple annoyance or hurt caused by some person or thing. Historically, nuisance referred to the denial of someones rights to use land.
In the thirteenth century, the writ of nuisance was available to plaintiffs to take action against those injuries which were committed wholly on the land of the defendant, but interfered with the rights of the plaintiff. This was the beginnings of the modern day private nuisance. An extension of private nuisance eventually gave rise to public nuisance as well. Any interference on the rights of the public, or the rights of the crown, was considered to be a crime.
These crimes first developed from wrongdoings on the property of a public highway, or other public property. Because of the similarity between crimes against private property and public property, these wrongdoings were also labeled as nuisances. The term became so widely used that it began to describe all types of crime against the crown or against private citizens.
A private nuisance is primarily based on a civil wrong in which the rights of a private individual, in which a wrongdoing has interfered with the plaintiff’s land. A public nuisance refers instead to a crime which effects the rights of the public at large. It is a very broad term that encompasses many different offenses.
A public and private nuisance actually have very little comparison, except in name. The nature of the offenses are actually very different, but they both include some kind of interference by the wrongdoer that disturbs the plaintiff, or the public. In order for a defendant to be guilty of a private nuisance, he must have substantially interfered with the right of a plaintiff’s enjoyment of land. A public nuisance must effect the community in general.
Absolute nuisances are nuisances for which the defendant is strictly liable. Certain activities are so sure to cause a nuisance that they are labeled this way. Setting off fireworks in public, storing flammable substances on one’s property, or even such things as extremely bad odors, will qualify as absolute nuisances.