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.
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