Did anyone subpoena Bob the Builder?

Watching Bob the Builder is not an adequate substitute for having a construction industry White Card.

On the weekend of 13-14 September 2014, 16 year old Alex Hayes entered a construction site in Kentucky with some friends.  They consumed whiskey and marijuana.  A little after 1am they began to leave.  Alex climbed onto a piece of equipment, started it and began to drive it up a floodwall.  The machine tipped over and caused severe injuries to his right leg.  Hayes’ parents sought compensation on his behalf from the the property developer and its construction contractor.

bob-the-builder-mini-playsets-assorted
This is not a training resource (Image from here)

It was common ground that Alex was trespassing at the time of the accident.

Kentucky statute law provides that [KY Rev Stat § 381.232 (2013)] –

The owner of real estate shall not be liable to any trespasser for injuries sustained by the trespasser on the real estate of the owner, except for injuries which are intentionally inflicted by the owner or someone acting for the owner.

The rigour of this provision is moderated by Kentucky’s doctrine of “attractive nuisance”.  This doctrine says that a landowner is liable for harm to children trespassing on land, if that harm is caused by an artificial condition on the land and if –

  1. The place is one where the possessor knows children are likely to trespass;
  2. The possessor knows of the condition and should realize it poses an unreasonable risk of death or injury to such children;
  3. The children, because of their youth, do not appreciate the danger;
  4. The value of the condition for the possessor and the cost of eliminating the risk are slight relative to the risk to the children; and
  5. The possessor fails to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or protect the children.

The defendants sought summary dismissal of the claims which was granted: Hayes v DCI Properties – D KY LLC (Campbell Circuit Court, Judge Stine, 22 July 2016, unreported).  The plaintiffs appeal was dismissed: Hayes v DCI Properties – D KY LLC (Kentucky Court of Appeals, Combs, Lambert and Nickell JJ, 16 June 2017, unreported). The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.  It was noted that Alex was licensed to drive a car, that he was an average high school student, and that earlier in the evening he had taken steps to prevent one of his friends injuring himself on a machine.

Although we no longer adhere to a strict age cutoff, e.g., children under fourteen years of age, a child must be unable to appreciate the risk involved in intermeddling with the condition. The evidence in this case clearly demonstrates that Alex not only was capable of appreciating but also in fact did appreciate the risk of operating a piece of heavy machinery.

As a result, Alex was not entitled to rely on the attractive nuisance doctrine.

Hayes and Hayes v DCI Properties LLC, __ S.W.3d __ (KY, 13 December 2018)

Fractured and captured

In the leading English case of Bernstein v Skyviews & General Ltd, Griffiths J said “I can find no support in authority for the view that a landowner’s rights in the air space above his property extend to an unlimited height”*. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania seems to have gone in the opposite direction both spatially and jurisprudentially.

Rock Oil
Image from here

Briggs owned land in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Southwestern Energy Production Co leased oil and gas rights on an adjoining parcel of land. The company extracted natural gas from below both properties using hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). Briggs sued the company in the Court of Common Pleas for conversion of natural gas and trespass to land. The Company sought and was granted summary dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim based on the “rule of capture”. The rule of capture says that an owner (or lessee) may extract oil and gas from below ground even when doing so depletes a single reservoir of oil or gas beneath both their own and adjoining land**. The plaintiff appealed.

The Superior Court upheld the appeal and set aside summary judgment. It found that fracking was so different from conventional gas extraction that the rule of capture did not apply –

Traditionally, the rule of capture assumes that oil and gas originate in subsurface reservoirs or pools, and can migrate freely within the reservoir and across property lines, according to changes in pressure. … Unlike oil and gas originating in a common reservoir, natural gas, when trapped in a shale formation, is non-migratory in nature. … Shale gas does not merely “escape” to adjoining land absent the application of an external force. … Instead, the shale must be fractured through the process of hydraulic fracturing; only then may the natural gas contained in the shale move freely

It followed that fracking may be an actionable trespass where subsurface fractures and fracking substances entered the “subsurface estate” of a property and resulted in the extraction of natural gas.  Conceivably this trespass may extend to damage caused by earth tremors if they can be credibly linked to fracking.

Briggs v Southwestern Energy Production Co, 2018 PA Super 79

========================
* [1978] Q.B. 479 at 487.
** Minard Run Oil Co v US Forest Service, 670 F. 3d 236 at 256 (3d Cir. 2011)

Coppinger v Gray (2015) H&FLR 2015-27

Brendan Coppinger and Nessa Coppinger v Edwin Gray and Mozella Johnson (2015) H&FLR 2015-27

Superior Court of the District of Columbia

2 March 2015

Coram: Beck J

Appearing for the Plaintiffs: Eric Klein (of Beveridge & Diamond)
Appearing for the Defendants: Self-represented

Catchwords: District of Columbia – neighbour – smoking – tobacco – negligence – nuisance – trespass – injunction

Facts: The first defendant (Gray) lived in a Washington DC house owned by the second defendant (Johnson).  The house had been purchased by their mother in 1964.  In mid-2014 the plaintiffs and their infant daughter moved into the adjoining house.  The first defendant conceded that from time to time he would smoke tobacco and marijuana and burn incense.  The plaintiffs alleged that this caused their house to smell of (or become filled by) smoke, causing loss of amenity and a risk of personal harm.

There was significant evidence that there were cracks in the wall shared by the houses, that the defendants’ chimney was decaying, and that these factors were causing smoke to enter the plaintiffs’ house. The defendants alleged that shoddy renovations to the plaintiffs’ property had left the wall inadequately sealed.

Discussions between the parties did not resolve the matter and the plaintiffs issued proceedings in negligence, nuisance and trespass and claiming damages.  An interlocutory injunction on the defendant smoking in the premises was sought by the plaintiffs.

Held: Granting the injunction, that the defendant be forbidden from smoking any substance whatsoever inside his home.  Her Honour further ordered him to refuse to allow any person to reenter the house who smoked in breach of the order.  The order was to remain in force until further order or until the matter was finally heard.

Judgment

No written reasons are available.  This report has been prepared based on reports in the Washington Post of 10 March 2015 (here and here), by radio station WTOP and television station WJLA-TV.

Comment: This matter invites comparison with the German case of Proprietor v Adolfs (2014) H&FLR 2014-36. One might infer that the law will be particularly receptive to claims of loss of amenity due to smoking, particularly in light of other cases which suggest tobacco use is coming to be considered a social burden (for example, Police v Dumughn (2002) H&FLR 2015-23 and State v Native Wholesale Supply (2014) H&FLR 2014-32).