Hendricks v. Stalnaker

181 W. Va. 31, 380 S.E.2d 198 (1989)



In order clearly to delineate between a public nuisance and a private nuisance, a private nuisance is defined as a substantial and unreasonable interference with the private use and enjoyment of another's land. The definition of private nuisance includes conduct that is intentional and unreasonable, negligent or reckless, or that results in an abnormally dangerous conditions or activities in an inappropriate place. Recovery for a private nuisance is limited to plaintiffs who have suffered a significant harm to their property rights or privileges caused by the interference.


Upon learning that plaintiff adjoining landowners were seeking a permit to place a septic system near the property line of the defendant landowner, defendant had a water well dug near his property line, precluding the adjoining landowners' from obtaining the necessary permit for the septic system. Plaintiff filed an action for damages and the court declared the water well to be a private nuisance and ordered its abatement. Defendant appealed and the court reversed the judgment in favor of the adjoining landowners and remanded for entry of an order consistent with its opinion.


Was the water well a private nuisance?




The court held that, while defendants' inability to operate a septic system on their property was a substantial interference with the use and enjoyment of their land, nevertheless, it did not constitute a private nuisance. Balancing the interests of the competing landowners, the court held that the installation of the water well by the plaintiff was not an unreasonable use of the land. Therefore, it did not constitute a private nuisance. Specifically, the court held that both a water well and a septic system were necessary to use this land for housing and that neither party had an inexpensive and practical alternative. Thus, plaintiffs failed to show that the balancing of interests favored their septic system.

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