A public nuisance exists for conduct that amounts to a substantial interference with the exercise of a common right of the public, thereby offending public morals, interfering with the use by the public of a public place, or endangering or injuring the property, health, safety, or comfort of a considerable number of persons. A public nuisance is a violation against the State, and is subject to abatement or prosecution by the proper governmental authority. A public nuisance is actionable by a private person only if it is shown that the person suffered special injury beyond that suffered by the community at large. This principle recognizes the necessity of guarding against the multiplicity of lawsuits that would follow if everyone were permitted to seek redress for a wrong common to the public.
Plaintiffs in two sets of consolidated cases suffered severe economic losses from business and street closures that resulted from defendants' construction project disasters. In consolidated appeal of the first of two cases, defendant construction contractors and landowners appealed the state supreme court's reversal of dismissal of plaintiff nearby businesses' actions to recover economic loss suffered from street closure after accident. In the second case, plaintiffs appealed affirmance of dismissal of their actions. The court reversed in one pair of cases and affirmed in the other. Inconsistent intermediate appellate court rulings on whether plaintiffs could recover for their losses led to review by New York's high court.
Are defendants liable to plaintiff for negligence?
The court held that in both these cases, plaintiffs could not show that they had any sort of special relationship with their respective defendants that justified imposing a duty of care toward plaintiffs on defendants. Furthermore, plaintiffs could not show that the harm they suffered was any different from the harm suffered by all the businesses in their urban neighborhoods. Liability could not reasonably be extended so far, so defendants were not liable under a theory of nuisance, either.