Robinson v Kilvert – 1889

March 05, 2024
Micheal James

Jurisdiction / Tag(s):

Case Summary:

In 1889, Robinson v Kilvert ignited a legal inferno surrounding private nuisance. Mr. Robinson, a warehouse tenant, stored paper susceptible to heat. Mr. Kilvert, his landlord operating a paper box factory below, used heat – deemed reasonable practice – causing the paper to deteriorate. Did this constitute a nuisance despite the unusual sensitivity of the paper?

Facts of the Case:

Mr. Robinson rented the ground floor of a warehouse, storing his paper business’ stock. Mr. Kilvert, owning the cellar below, ran a paper box factory requiring heat for production. This generated significant heat, affecting the temperature above in Mr. Robinson’s storage area. Unfortunately, his paper, unlike standard stock, proved unusually sensitive to heat, becoming damaged. Mr. Robinson, blaming the heat from Mr. Kilvert’s activity, claimed nuisance and sought compensation.


  1. Nuisance despite reasonable use: Did Mr. Kilvert’s reasonable heat usage in his lawful business constitute a nuisance, even if causing unintended damage due to Mr. Robinson’s unique paper?
  2. Relevance of individual sensitivity: Should individual sensitivities (like the heat-sensitive paper) be considered in determining a nuisance claim, or should the focus be on objectively “reasonable” use of property?
  3. Balancing property rights and sensitivities: How does the law balance the right to reasonable property use with potential harm caused by individual sensitivities?


The court ruled in favor of Mr. Kilvert, finding no nuisance. While acknowledging the damage, they deemed Mr. Kilvert’s heat usage reasonable and customary for his business. The damage arose solely from Mr. Robinson’s unusually sensitive paper, not an unreasonable action by Mr. Kilvert. Nuisance, the court emphasized, hinges on objective standards of reasonable use, not individual susceptibilities.

Significance of the Case:

This case established crucial principles in private nuisance law:

  • Reasonable use takes precedence: A lawful activity won’t be deemed a nuisance simply because it harms someone due to their peculiar sensitivity.
  • Nuisance judged objectively: Nuisance claims are assessed based on objectively reasonable behavior in similar situations, not individual vulnerabilities.
  • Balancing act between rights and harm: The law seeks to balance the right to reasonable property use with the potential for harm, prioritizing reasonable use unless an activity significantly exceeds acceptable standards.


Robinson v Kilvert (1889) stands as a pivotal case in defining the boundaries of private nuisance. While Mr. Robinson’s paper may have suffered heatstroke, the law refused to deem Mr. Kilvert’s actions as unreasonable. This case solidified the importance of objectivity in nuisance claims, prioritizing established standards of reasonable property use over individual sensitivities. However, it also sparked ongoing debates about potential limitations of this approach and the need to consider evolving contexts involving new technologies and diverse circumstances.

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