For Whom The Bells Toll: St. Stephens Deafens Woman in Italy

Usually, saints are known to heal such conditions as deafness, but a woman in Genoa has successfully sued the Santo Stefano for hearing loss due to the ringing of its church bells. The church will have to pay 60,000 euros for its ringing nuisance. It is actually a type of tort action that is routinely seen in the United States and, more often than not, rejected.

The damages for the woman will amount to $87,800 dollars for
her “moral” and “physical” damage over a 23-year-long period. I am not sure what “moral” damages would be in such a case, but Judge Pasquale Grasso also ordered the volume of the bells to be reduced.

Of course, it was an ironic lawsuit given the fact that St. Stephens was also persecuted by religious figures including Saul of Tarsus, the future Saint Paul (“Which one of the Prophets did your fathers not persecute, and they killed the ones who prophesied the coming of the Just One, of whom now, too, you have become betrayers and murderers.” (7:52)).

At one time, such lawsuits in the United States were barred under the “coming to a nuisance doctrine.” By moving next to a church, you accepted the preexisting nuisance. That doctrine is no longer applied, though courts will often balance the value and community role of a nuisance activity like bell ringing. Moreover, in nuisance, there is no “egg-shell-thin-skull-plaintiff” rule. A victim must experience objectively unreasonable interference with the enjoyment of their property. In the case of Rogers v. Elliott, 15 N.E. 768 (Mass. 1888), the plaintiff suffered convulsions from hearing the bells of a Catholic Church each day. The bell ringer at the Church admitted that “he had no love for the plaintiff.” The court nevertheless rejected the claim stating

“If one’s right to use his property were to depend upon the effect of the use upon a person or peculiar temperament or disposition, or upon one suffering from an uncommon disease, the standard for measuring it would be so uncertain and fluctuating as to paralyze industrial enterprises.”

Of course, Judge Knowlton never encountered St. Stephens and his bells.

For the full story, click here.

2 thoughts on “For Whom The Bells Toll: St. Stephens Deafens Woman in Italy”

  1. Saint Stephen with a rose
    In and out of the garden he goes
    Country garland in the wind and the rain
    Wherever he goes the people all complain

    Stephen prosper in his time
    Well he may and he may decline
    Did it matter? does it now?
    Stephen would answer if he only knew how


    Saint Stephen will remain
    All he’s lost he shall regain
    Seashore washed by the suds and the foam
    Been here so long he’s got to calling it home

    Fortune comes a crawlin, Calliope woman
    Spinning that curious sense of your own
    Can you answer? Yes I can,

    but what would be the answer to the answer man?

  2. A lot of important facts here, and interesting side notes. I enjoyed the reference to Paul and his pre-conversion antics.

    It’s a tough case to be sure. If the Bell Ringer of the church has noted animosity towards the plaintiff then perhaps there is more than the typical ringing of the bell.

    On the otherhand, the I see no basis for awarding damages, as was clearly referenced by the “coming to a nuisance doctrine” she chose to live there, and for TWENTY THREE YEARS.

    I’d say this was a bad award for damages as if the bells were so damaging why didn’t the plaintiff seek relocation a decade or two ago?

    But ordering the church to reduce the volume of the ringing seemed a prudent step.

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