Waschak v. Moffat
Supreme Court of PA- 1954
- Gas or fumes from the refuse of a coal breaker damaged the paint of P's dwelling.
- P's own a dwelling in the center of PA's anthracite coal lands.
- Gas known as hydrogen sulfide was emitted from two of Ds' culm banks, causing discoloration of the white paint that was used in painting P's dwelling. Painted surface became dark or black.
- Defendants did not know and had no reason to anticipate the emission of this gas and the results that might follow.
- Sole proven damage was the cost of restoring the surface with a white paint that will not discolor.
- Twenty-five other cases are at issue awaiting the decision in this case.
- Superior Court came to verdict for P for $1250.
- Can an action for nuisance be upheld when the defendants had no reason to know that the harmful result would occur and when they did not act negligently or recklessly?
- An action for nuisance cannot be sustained when the defendants had no reason to know that the harmful result would occur and when they did not act negligently or recklessly.
- This case deals with liability without fault for escape of substances from land.
- Impact of this decision will effect the entire coal interests as well as other industries.
- Case in Superior Court was tried on the theory of absolute liability for the maintenance of a nuisance.
- Jury was instructed that it was to determine, as a matter of fact, whether or not what the Ds did and the conditions resulting therefrom constituted a "reasonable and natural use" of the Ds' land.
- Court rejected to follow Rylands v. Fletcher and also the Absolute Nuisance Doctrine.
- Rule of the Restatement is that an actor is liable in an action for damages for a nontrespassory invasion of another's interest in the private use and enjoyment of land if:
- The other has property rights and privileges in respect to the use or enjoyment interfered with; and
- The invasion is substantial; and
- The actor's conduct is a legal cause of the invasion; and
- The invasion is either
- Intentional and unreasonable; or
- Unintentional and otherwise actionable under the rules governing liability for negligent, reckless or ultrahazardous conduct.
- It is significant that Ps purchased their home in June 1948 near the Washington Street culm bank, which was used from 1944 until October 1948.
- Of the various gases, hydrogen sulfide caused the damage. This was emitted from the Washington Street bank and settling basin.
- Ds had no reason to know that this gas would be emitted or that it would have such an effect on P's house.
- Ds were guilty of no negligence and used every possible means to prevent damage or injury to the adjoining property.
- Ps purchased the house from a former mine inspector, and they were fully aware of the surrounding situation.
- Ps have freely assumed the annoyance here.
- In applying the Restatement, it is clear that Ds' actions were not intentional, but it was also not unreasonable and was not the result of negligent, reckless, or ultrahazardous conduct.
- Therefore, no liability may be imposed on the defendants.
- Hydrogen sulfide damaged not only paint but also silverware, bath tub fixtures, handles of doors, etc.
- Jury decided that the Ds did not make a reasonable, lawful, and natural use of their land.
- Jury was justified in their conclusion and the verdict should not be disturbed.
- Burden is on the D to show that he did use his land naturally, reasonably, and legally. D failed to meet this burden.
- There was no reason for the culm banks to be right in the middle of the residential area.
- Constant smell of rotting eggs should constitute a nuisance, too.
- Health of the town is being imperiled.
- There is a limit to what should be allowed and assumed as part of living in a mining community, and this crosses that line.
- The invasion of another's interest in the use and enjoyment of land is intentional when the actor:
- Acts for the purpose of causing it; OR
- Knows that it is resulting or is substantially certain to result from his conduct.
- The record amply proves that the defendants were at least substantially certain that their burning culm deposits would invade the Ps' interest in the use and enjoyment of their land.