Jones v Ruth

[2011] EWCA Civ 804

Protection from harassment claim successful against neighbour undertaking building works

The claimant (C) and her partner owned a two-storey building adjoining a property owned by the defendant (D). For over four years, D carried out extensive work on their property, causing noise and dust pollution, including adding a third storey. D’s builders could see into C’s property, including her bathroom, garden and patio, for a substantial time.

C claimed damages for nuisance and trespass caused to their property by the building works and was awarded £30,000 for loss of amenity and enjoyment during the works, which the court said should have taken no more than a year.

A further sum of £45,000 was awarded to compensate the claimant for the defendant’s unauthorised use of her property to develop D’s third storey (by taking support from C’s building to raise D’s roof) in lieu of an injunction compelling D to remove the offending parts of their property.

C also claimed damages for harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (‘the PHA 1997’). She alleged both she and her female partner with whom she lived suffered a campaign of harassment by D and his family and builders, which included acting in an aggressive and intimidating way, failing to provide information or notice about the commencement of building works, ignoring requests to limit the noise, refusing to make good damage caused to their garden, shrubs and property, and dropping notes from the window containing offensive and threatening remarks about lesbians.

C went on to suffer a somatoform pain disorder due to anxiety and depression, leaving her unable to work. Her condition was found to be related to the defendant’s conduct.

C was awarded £6,000 for harassment in the light of D’s aggressive and intimidating conduct during the works. However, C’s claim for personal injury and financial loss was refused by the trial judge on the basis that her injury was not reasonably foreseeable. C appealed and D cross-appealed.

Court of Appeal held

  • There is no need for C to show foreseeability of injury or loss in a claim for harassment under the PHA 1997. The starting point is conduct of the kind described in section 1 causing anxiety or injury. Once C proved that D knew or ought to have known that the conduct would amount to harassment, D was responsible for the injury and loss flowing from that conduct.
  • The trial judge was wrong to exclude an award for personal injuries and financial loss. General damages of £28,750 for personal injuries plus interest at 2 per cent from the date of issue and £115,000 for loss of earnings (£23,000 per annum for five years) were awarded.
  • Future claims for medical expenses and loss of earnings should be remitted to the master of the Queens Bench Division.
  • The sum of £45,000 was too high; £15,000 was appropriate for the trespass and nuisance.

Comment

This case is a reminder of the significance of the PHA 1997, which in this claim merited damages significantly in excess of the damages for nuisance and trespass.