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Time and tide: dis-continuing Nuisance

A private nuisance is an actionable tort. As such, it is subject to the statute of limitation. When, however, does the clock start ticking in a case of continuing nuisance?

The Supreme Court in London recently considered this question in the context of an offshore oil spill affecting land on the coast of Nigeria. 


On 20 December 2011, a six-hour oil leak occurred 120km offshore at the Bonga oil field. An estimated 40k barrels of crude oil leaked into the ocean.  

The claimants’ case was that this had devastatingly impacted the use and enjoyment of their land on the Nigerian coast.

The defendant denies that the oil spill even reached the shoreline, maintaining that it was successfully contained offshore. Either way, it was contended that the claim was made out of time, and so statute barred. The High Court and the Court of Appeal agreed.  

The appellants’ appealed to the Supreme Court on the basis that their claim was one of continuing nuisance and, as such, was not limited by the statute of limitation.


“…the tort of private nuisance is committed where the defendant’s activity, or a state of affairs for which the defendant is responsible, unduly interferes with… the use and enjoyment of the claimant’s land”

A continuing nuisance would occur where a repeated activity causes undue interference with the enjoyment of land. This would require the cause of action to continue to accrue.


“It is not surprising that [the appellant’s counsel] could cite no case directly supporting the position he was advocating. And while there may be no authority that directly contradicts his central submission, that submission is contrary to principle and would have the unfortunate policy consequence of undermining the law of limitation.”


The appellants’ case was dismissed.


There was no continuing nuisance in this case. The cause of action accrued as soon as the claimants’ land was affected by the oil spill, and the clock started ticking. It did not continue to accrue. The case was statute barred.


“Time and tide wait for no man.”


For more information about this article or any other aspect of commercial dispute resolution get in touch with your Napthens team today.