Sturges v Bridgman (1879): nuisance and defence of prescription.

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Areas of applicable law: Tort law – Nuisance – Defence of prescription:

Main arguments in this case: Can a defendant rely on in his defence that the cause of a nuisance has been existing even before the claimant arrived at it?

This case also shows that a locality can play an influential role in deciding whether an act is a nuisance or not; and when a defendant cannot rely on the defence of prescription.

The facts of the case: The case involved the claimant, who was a doctor and had recently moved to an area which was predominantly occupied by medical experts. The claimant built a consultation room in his new residence but complained of noise caused by the heavy machinery in adjoining house which was a biscuit factory and had been operating in the location for over 20 years. The claimant brought a case for a nuisance.

The defendant tried to rely on the defence of prescription and argued that the factory had been operating in the area for over 20 years, which meant that it was claimant who came to the nuisance.

The court disagreed and held that the locality was a residential area which predominantly had residents who were in medical professions, i.e., doctors; and therefore it was not an area where a factory would be a common sight. It did not matter if the factory had been operating in the area for over 20 years or it had been causing a nuisance to other occupiers in the area for the same period as a nuisance came into effect as soon as the claimant complained about it. In other words what the court was saying that the defendant may have been able to rely on the defence of prescription if the noise from the factory had caused a nuisance to the doctor for at least 20 years.

The presiding judge famously said in this case “‘…what would be a nuisance in Belgrave Square would not necessarily be so in Bermondsey’”.

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