Court dismisses noise pollution claim

Excess noise pollution by countless vehicles twenty-four hours a day: that is what thousands of Prague residents in apartment buildings along Prague's "magistrala" highway have been putting up with for years. In an unprecedented case 3,000 local residents filed a joint lawsuit against city hall for failing to deal with the problem. But a Prague court has now dismissed the claim.

The sound of cars, trucks and still more cars day-and-night: that's what many Prague residents have long had to deal with living near parts of the city's "magistrala" highway. Studies have shown repeatedly that decibel levels of noise hitting homes along the highway routinely exceed acceptable norms: around 77 decibels inside during the day (which is 17 above acceptable) and 60 decibels at night: not much better. Ultimately several thousand residents - long used to keeping their windows perpetually closed even in summer swelters to keep out the noise - said "Enough" and filed a joint-law suit against the city. On Tuesday morning many were still confident they would win their case.

But that's not how things have turned out. Judge Libuse Fritzova, while acknowledging that the plaintiffs' rights were being breached, noted that there was little city hall could do in the short-term and ultimately dismissed the suit. A little earlier I spoke to the plaintiffs' lawyer Alena Banyaiova and asked her how she saw Tuesday's decision.

"It's a little difficult to describe the reasoning but the judge stated that the plaintiffs' rights were violated because the noise levels which are permitted by special regulations were exceeded, but dismissed the claim on the grounds that it would be difficult to enforce the decision in a reasonable time. That the city can not effectively remedy the situation immediately and that the penalties which the court might have imposed to force the city to remedy the situation would not 'help'. The claim was 'justified' but the defendant can do nothing about, therefore the action should be dismissed. The clients have already authorised me to appeal."

Discontent Prague residents waiting for the ruling, photo: CTK
Psychologists have long pointed out the impact of noise pollution on one's health and there's no doubt Prague residents along the "magistrala" would welcome marked improvements along the infamous highway. But the situation is not likely to change soon: the city has been aiming for a much more far-reaching solution - a planned ring road that will one day filter away at least some of the heavy traffic. But there the first benefits are only expected to be felt in roughly four years. Until then, there are only partial solutions, such as for tenants to reach agreement with landlords to install anti-noise windows, something they are not required to do by law. Other solutions would be for the city to resurface stretches of road with low noise asphalt, or even reduce speed limits in areas. In such cases at least some local residents say they would feel at least something was being done.