When Can I Sue for an Environmental Nuisance?
Getting compensation for environmental harms to your propertyBy Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on October 11, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Ted A. Warpinski
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- What is an Environmental Nuisance Claim?
- Document the Problem and Keep Track of Expenses
- When Should I Get a Plaintiff’s Attorney Involved in My Environmental Case?
Pollution is an unfortunate reality in our consumer-based economy. To make most products, there will be waste materials and, inevitably, these waste products that will affect someone’s health or the use of their property.
This can happen in a variety of ways:
- Emissions that cause air pollution;
- Wells can go bad due to blasting;
- Pesticides can spread further than they were supposed to go;
- Groundwater can be tainted;
- Septic systems can be filled instead of emptied.
If any of these unfortunate instances happen to you, is there a way to get compensation for the environmental harm you’ve suffered as a property owner? One option is to bring an environmental nuisance action.
What is an Environmental Nuisance Claim?
An environmental nuisance is any action that creates an unreasonable interference with your enjoyment or use of your property. There are two types of nuisance lawsuits:
- A private nuisance claim is when an individual sues to recover compensation for their personal damages resulting from environmental nuisance;
- A public nuisance claim is when a group of people or a governmental entity brings a lawsuit for harm caused to the general public or public health.
What tort law sees as an environmental nuisance is not the same as an average person’s definition of nuisance. You may think of a nuisance as a minor thing, but the law demands that a nuisance substantially interferes with one’s enjoyment of a property before there will be compensation.
“If you have a substantial interference with the use or enjoyment of your property—the buzzword being ‘substantial’ or something more than trivial—then you have a claim,” says Wisconsin-based environmental attorney Ted A. Warpinski. “If it only goes on for a little while—water shut off or power out for an afternoon—that’s a fairly minor inconvenience. If one has no water for days and days, or the power is out for months, you’ve got a problem there.”
Document the Problem and Keep Track of Expenses
Aside from recommending that if you have been injured due to an environmental concern, Warpinski recommends that you keep track of time spent looking into what went wrong and how to deal with it. This is important for potentially measuring damages later on.
You should additionally log out-of-pocket costs for your investigation. If surveys are done or soil is tested, you’ll want to be recouped. Further, you should take pictures of any and all areas you think were damaged. Before-and-after photos are extremely helpful in proving the cause of damages.
You’ll want to make sure you don’t sign a release, either with an insurance company or an agent of a business, without having an attorney look it over first. This may be the first sign you should get an attorney.
When Should I Get a Plaintiff’s Attorney Involved in My Environmental Case?
While accidents do happen, and companies try to minimize their impact, it takes time to correct them as they occur.
“For the most part, people need to realize that accidents happen. They have to try to work with the company to try to get it addressed—to make sure the behavior doesn’t continue. Often, people will become antagonistic with a company, and that doesn’t help the situation on either side,” says Warpinski.
He adds that “if you have health issues caused by a business’ pollution, you definitely should look into bringing a case. If the concern is more centered around the value or manner in which you may use your property, you will have to look at how significant of an impact you have.”
No matter what cause of action you may have, contact a reputable and experienced environmental attorney to potentially get the remedies you deserve through a nuisance case. For more information on environmental litigation and enforcement of federal laws by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), read our overview of environmental law.
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