In a decision with major implications for smokers and those who live next to them, a New York civil court has agreed that smokers can be liable to their neighbors under nuisance and negligence laws.
“Neighbors bothered by secondhand smoke don’t have to keep guessing what their rights are. It’s a cause of action that’s now recognized under the law—it’s a precedent,” says Victoria Kennedy, the lawyer representing the owners of a $2.1 million Tribeca condo who filed suit against a neighbor this summer. “People can no longer say they have a right to smoke in their apartment even if it impacts their neighbors.”
At least one similar case has been brought before, but it was settled before the court had a chance to rule on the validity of the claim, says Kennedy.
Without any case law, “many people assumed that even if one is being affected by a neighbor’s secondhand smoke, the smoker would not be liable," says Kennedy. "The thinking was that secondhand smoke was just something you have to accept if the building isn’t designated smoke-free.”
In yesterday's decision, which denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit seeking $25,000 in damages, the judge relied in part on a case where a commercial tenant sued an adjoining tenant for nuisance caused by secondhand smoke.
Liability extends to both the smoker and the owner of the unit occupied by the smoker.
You can download the decision below.