Christmas Lights…Naughty or Nice?

XmasHouseLightsChristmas comedy classics…Elf, Bad Santa, and, of course, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  We’re only a week past Thanksgiving and I’ve already heard at least four references to the Griswold’s Christmas light extravaganza.  Clark’s family was impressed when he finally got all 250 strands of lights to work:


But his neighbors definitely weren’t.  Those lights were a nuisance to them and they aren’t the only ones who get angry with homeowners who go over the top with their holiday displays.  In real life, some homeowners go to such extremes they put the Griswold house to shame, even incorporating musically-timed lights into their decorations:

These extravaganzas often attract large crowds, who may block neighbors’ driveways, cause excess noise, or cause traffic problems.  As a result, there have been private nuisance suits filed and city governments who have attempted to take action because of the public nuisance caused.  Even governments in the UK recognize that Christmas displays may cause a nuisance.

Nuisance suits are based on the idea that certain conditions or activities “unduly” interfere with either a public right or the use and enjoyment of private property.  Nuisances are viewed as either public or private in nature.  A public nuisance has to impact public rights, obviously – those rights that are common to all members of the public.  A private nuisance, on the other hand, is a condition that harms or interferes with a private interest.  Both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Restatement (Second) of Torts define a private nuisance as “a nontrespassory invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of land.”  Bostco LLC v. Milwaukee Metro. Sewerage Dist.,  350 Wis.2d 554, 835 N.W.2d 160 (Wis. 2013).

XmasLightsSome private nuisance suits have been filed over Christmas lights, but these suits don’t seem to get too far, in large part because the issue is temporary (a few weeks a year).  So if your neighbor has an over-the-top display, your best options are join in the fun (like one neighborhood in my old hometown) or have a good sense of humor about the whole thing.  Of course, if they’re playing Gangnam Style every night, you may have a good claim!

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Jessica has been litigating business and IP disputes for the past decade. During that time, she’s dealt with clients, lawyers, and judges who have varying degrees of appreciation for the challenges of managing discovery in an electronic age. Until the fall of 2011, she was an attorney at a large, Texas-based law firm, where she represented clients in state and federal court nationwide. That fall, she made a long-desired move back to the Midwest and is now a partner at Hansen Reynolds Dickinson Crueger LLC, a litigation boutique based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she continues to litigate while also consulting with business and law firms on e-discovery issues (before, during, and after litigation arises).