What Is the Difference Between a Public and Private Nuisance?

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The Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute states that a public nuisance transpires when a person unreasonably inhibits a right shared by the general public, while a private nuisance occurs when a plaintiff's use and satisfaction of private property is affected greatly and unreasonably through a thing or action. Courts may grant damages and prohibit further activity by the offender for either type of transgression.

The National Paralegal College offers examples of public and private nuisance cases. One example of a private nuisance involves a company which builds a tannery. A neighbor who owns his own property can smell the foul odor of the tannery from his home. This can be a viable action for nuisance against the company. The company is affecting the use and enjoyment of the plaintiff's property, and the odor is a substantial and unreasonable interference with the homeowner's enjoyment.

An example of a public nuisance from the National Paralegal College involves an oil tanker which causes a massive oil spill, damaging miles of coastline. Consequently, public beaches are unusable to the public. A windsurfing instructor at one of the beaches can no longer conduct his business because of the oil spill and subsequent beach closures. The instructor can request legal remedy against the company because of his business losses attributed to the public nuisance caused by the company.