Family to receive £5,500 compensation after having neighbours’ oil spill on their land

A family are to receive more than £5,000 compensation for the “unpleasantness” of having neighbours’ oil spill onto their land, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Gillen reduced their original award by £2,000 based on an evaluation of the discomfort and inconvenience suffered. 

Together with their three children, Kevin and Karen O’Neill sued Graham and Ella Tomlinson after oil escaped onto their property at Parklands, Antrim in December 2008.

Earlier this year a deputy county court judge awarded the plaintiffs £7,500 in general damages.

With the O’Neills having claimed negligence and nuisance, that payout was appealed to the High Court.

In evidence Mrs O’Neill told how she noticed an increasingly strong odour on her property.

She said her family suffered headaches, stuffy noses and illness which they originally thought was a virus or winter bug.

It was then discovered to have been caused by oil coming from the defendants’ tank, the court heard. The housewife also stated:

:: A fan was inserted in an unsuccessful attempt to remove the small, along with digging up to five feet into her garden.

:: She was unable to use her back garden or hang any washing out.

:: The car in their garage could not be used, and she could only gain access to her own home by the front door.

:: Their pet dog and bird had to be transferred.

:: Eight months of noisy work caused dirt to be tramped into the home.

:: The smell on the family’s clothes and bed linen continued throughout the period.

Although Mrs O’Neill lived in the house throughout this period her oldest child was at university in Liverpool, returning home during holidays.

Another child was working and at home each day, while the youngest child was at school.

In a ruling made in July but only published today, Mr Justice Gillen pointed out that the purpose of awarding damages against the defendants for the nuisance caused was not to punish them but to try to restore the plaintiff’s position.

“In terms they must be compensated for the unpleasantness of living in this house during the period it took to repair the defects in the oil leak,” he said.

With no evidence of any personal injury or psychiatric damage, the judge said damages for discomfort and inconvenience have conventionally been modest.  

“Whilst recognising that  there were five plaintiffs in this case, I observe that one of them was at university most of the time and three of them were out of the house either at school or work for a substantial part of the day, he said.

” In all the circumstances I have come to the conclusion that the figure of £7,500 awarded by the County Court Judge was too high and I have therefore reduced it to £5,500.”

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