The Economics of Public Nuisance Law and the New Enforcement Actions

31 Pages Posted: 20 May 2008

See all articles by Keith N. Hylton

Keith N. Hylton

Boston University - School of Law


In contrast to the traditional legal commentary, I find nuisance law to be a coherent body of rules that serves an explainable function. Nuisance optimally regulates activity levels. Nuisance law induces actors to choose socially optimal activity levels by imposing liability when externalized costs are far in excess of externalized benefits or far in excess of background external costs. The new enforcement actions for lead paint abatement or gun control purposes have an arguable theoretical basis in nuisance law. However, as currently framed, the lawsuits are inconsistent with significant parts of the doctrine and the theory.

Keywords: public nuisance law, private nuisance law, strict liability, activity levels, external costs, external benefits, lead paint litigation, gun litigation

JEL Classification: K00, K13, K40

Suggested Citation

Hylton, Keith N., The Economics of Public Nuisance Law and the New Enforcement Actions. Supreme Court Economic Review, Symposium on Public Nuisance, Forthcoming; Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 08-19. Available at SSRN:

Keith N. Hylton (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States
617-353-8959 (Phone)
617-353-3077 (Fax)

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