Date of text
Court name
People’s Court of Jiangjin District
Seat of court
Reference number
Guiding Case No. 128
Injunctive Relief, Land Use, Polluter Pays, Property, Damages, Liability, Civil, Torts, Evidence, Inspections, Burden of Proof

Case Brief

The plaintiff, Li *, purchased an apartment on Xiejiawan Main Street in the Jiulongpo District of Chongqing, and has been living in it since 2005. The MixC, a shopping mall developed by the defendant, * Property (Chongqing) Co., Ltd., is separated from the plaintiff’s residence by a two-way six-lane road, with a light rail line in the middle of this road. There are no other obstructions between the MixC and the plaintiff’s residence. An LED advertising screen (screen) on the exterior wall of the MixC, facing the plaintiff’s residence, has been in operation since its installation in 2014, displaying promotional materials and video commercials every day, generating strong light directly into the plaintiff‘s residence, which has affected his life.

In May 2014, property owners in the plaintiff’s apartment complex lodged a complaint with the municipal government, alleging that since 3 May, the giant screen had been generating strong light that cast into their rooms, causing serious light pollution, which affected their day-to-day lives. The property owners requested that the relevant authority order the screen’s operators to reduce its volume and brightness.

In September 2014, property owners in * Complex, Huangyang Road, also lodged a complaint with the municipal government, alleging the screen kept displaying promotional information and commercials all night and every day, producing light that was too dazzling for people to sleep and rest at night normally. Claiming light pollution from the screen at night seriously affected nearby residents, property owners in * Complex, Huangyang Road requested that relevant authorities address this issue by forbidding screen displays at night, or by only allowing the display until 8 p.m., and by dimming its brightness.

In February 2018, property owners in the plaintiff’s apartment complex lodged a further complaint with the municipal government, alleging the screen was a “nightmare” for nearby residents as it displayed video commercials every day, and the light was extremely strong and flashed frequently, so residents suffered from strong light exposure—akin to daytime—even at night, which seriously deprived the elderly and children of sleep. It was requested that the relevant authorities address this issue as soon as possible.

During the trial, on 11 August 2018, the court summoned the parties to an evening site inspection. The screen facing the plaintiff’s apartment was playing video commercials and the strong light generated was cast into the plaintiff’s residence. That night, the screen displayed video commercials until 8:58 p.m. According to the defendant, the size of the screen was 160 square meters (m2).

On the issue of whether environmental monitoring can be conducted on such light pollution, the court consulted with the Ecology and Environment Monitoring Station (EMS) in Jiulongpo District, Chongqing.

According to the director of the EMS, they could not undertake environmental monitoring of the light pollution as there were no norms or technical indicators in place at the state or municipal level for the monitoring of such pollution.

According to the deputy head of the EMS in Yongchuan District, Chongqing, a member of the expert panel of the Chongqing court for trials on environmental resources, there was no specific standard for light pollution in terms of environmental protection, but it was possible to determine whether light pollution is caused based on the comprehensive assessment of the remaining evidence from the perspective of civil legal relations.

Based on evidence submitted by the plaintiff, damage caused by the screen was an objective reality, namely disturbance to the plaintiff’s rest and sleep.

On the issue of light radiation generated by the screen, the court consulted a professor from the School of Architecture and Urban Planning of Chongqing University, the Vice President of the China Illuminating Engineering Society, a senior engineer from the School of Architecture and Urban Planning of Chongqing University, a director of the China Illuminating Engineering Society, and other experts.

According to these experts, light radiation from an LED screen has effects on human eyesight including disability glare and discomfort glare. This light radiation also has biological effects. People gradually fall asleep as light intensity decreases at night, due to the effects of two hormones: melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin levels rise at night and fall during the day, while cortisol levels change conversely. Overly strong light radiation disrupts human biological clocks, and has long-term effects. In addition, blue light emitted by an LED screen causes damage to people’s retinas, and can lead to irreparable loss of vision.

However, it was difficult to monitor the hazard presented by outdoor blue light, with no currently available standards to determine the effects of duration and intensity. Although some studies concluded that the impact of brightness on humans is lower if below 400 candela per square meter (cd/m2), this standard was difficult to apply to dynamic advertising screens. For brightness standards, the specifications compiled by authorities in different sectors have different limits on brightness, but as LED screens were different from direct light generated for practical purposes, it was more appropriate to determine the impact of brightness on people in this case based on the national standards for LED displays.


On 28 December 2018, the People’s Court of Jiangjin District of Chongqing issued the [2018, Chongqing, 0116, Civil First Trial, No. 6093] Civil Judgment.

As part of its order that the defendant immediately stop causing light pollution to the plaintiff by the screen’s operation, the court directed that: (i) from 1 May to 30 September, the screen could only display after 8:30 a.m. and must cease before 10 p.m.; (ii) from 1 October to 30 April, the screen could only start after 8:30 a.m. and must cease before 9:30 p.m.; and (iii) after 7 p.m., the screen’s brightness must not be higher than 600cd/m2. The plaintiff’s remaining claims were rejected. Neither party appealed, and the judgment was executed.


The court held that environmental protection is a basic national policy of the PRC, and all organizations and individuals are obliged to protect the environment. According to Article 9 of the General Provisions of the Civil Code of the People's Republic of China, "When conducting a civil activity, a person of the civil law shall act in a manner that facilitates conservation of resources and protection of the ecological environment." 

According to Article 90 of the Property Law of the People’s Republic of China, "A holder of real property may not discard solid wastes or discharge atmospheric pollutants, water pollutants, or such harmful substances as noise, light and magnetic radiation by violating the relevant provisions of the state."

According to Article 42(1) of the Environmental Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China, “Businesses, non-profit institutions and other producers and business operators that discharge pollutants shall take measures to prevent and control the environmental pollution caused by waste gas, wastewater, waste residues, dust, malodorous gases, radioactive substances and noise, vibration, light radiation and electromagnetic radiation generated during production, construction or other activities.”

This case involved disputed liability for environmental protection. According to Article 65 of the Tort Law of the People’s Republic of China, "Where any harm is caused by environmental pollution, the polluter shall assume the tort liability." Environmental pollution tort liability is a special tort liability, and its constituent elements include three aspects: (i) the polluter’s conduct caused environmental pollution; (ii) the plaintiff can prove the fact of harm; and (iii) there is a causal relationship between the polluter’s conduct of polluting the environment and harm to the plaintiff’s interests.

1. On whether the defendant engaged in conduct that polluted the environment:

As developer and operator of the MixC shopping mall, the defendant installed an LED screen on its exterior wall facing the plaintiff’s residence, to display promotional content, and the strong light generated was cast directly into the plaintiff’s home. According to the evidence, including the plaintiff’s photos and videos, as well as information collected after both parties attended the court’s site inspection, it could be determined that strong light generated by the defendant’s screen exceeded the general public tolerance range: such bright light seriously affected the normal work and study of surrounding residents, disrupting their normal lives and rest, and constituted light pollution. The defendant’s use of the screen for displaying commercials and promotional information caused light pollution, which constituted an act of polluting the environment.

2. On facts of harm to the plaintiff’s interests:

Harm caused by environmental pollution mainly includes damage to the property and health of the plaintiff and the environment. Consequential damages from the tort of environmental pollution are different from the consequential damages of general torts, including not only damage with obvious and measurable symptoms, but also damage that is not obvious, or is temporarily asymptomatic, and cannot always be measured. Harm caused to humans by light pollution may be latent and invisible. Typically, the plaintiff does not have obvious symptoms of damage at the beginning of the victimization process, and the damage suffered often cannot be measured accurately; but such harm will manifest itself as time elapses. As described by experts in this case, light pollution has a perceptible impact on human vision, and overly strong light radiation disrupts a person’s circadian clock, with long-term consequences instead of any discernible short-term impact.

In this case, strong light from the defendant’s screen exceeded levels that ordinary people could tolerate, affecting the normal lives and rest of the plaintiff and surrounding residents. According to common sense, such light pollution was bound to damage the plaintiff’s physical and mental health, environmental rights and interests.

3. On whether the defendant should bear tortious liability for environmental pollution:

According to Article 66 of the Tort Law of the People’s Republic of China, "Where any dispute arises over an environmental pollution, the polluter shall assume the burden to prove that it should not be liable or its liability could be mitigated under certain circumstances as provided for by law or to prove that there is no causation between its conduct and the harm."

In this case, the plaintiff provided evidence to prove the defendant’s conduct of polluting the environment, and the fact of damage caused to the plaintiff. The defendant assumed the burden to prove that either it should not be liable, or its liability could be mitigated under certain circumstances as provided for by law, or that there was no causation between its conduct of polluting the environment and the harm. However, the defendant did not submit evidence to discharge this burden of proof, so it would have to bear tortious liability for polluting the environment. According to Article 13 of the Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court of Several Issues on the Application of Law in the Trial of Disputes over Liability for Environmental Torts, “The people’s court shall, based on the infringed party’s claims and specifics of the case, reasonably determine that the polluter bears civil liabilities for the pollution, such as stopping the infringing conduct, removing obstacles, eliminating danger, restoring the original state, making an apology, and compensating for losses.” The damage of environmental tort is different from general damage to person and property, and there are unique requirements for the tort liability assumed by the polluter. Environmental tort is an infringement of the personal and property rights and interests of an unspecified majority of people in a certain area through the environment; and once there is damage that can be measured in a quantitative method, the consequences are often irreparable and cannot be eliminated. Therefore, in an environmental tort, the polluter committing an act of polluting the environment should bear the corresponding tort liability, even if there was no measurable damage as yet.

In this case, judging from the citizens’ complaints, the defendant should have realized that the strong light emitted by its screen would affect the plaintiff and other nearby residents; then the defendant should have realized its obligation to take necessary measures that reduced the impact on them. However, the defendant continued to use the screen, and its bright light exceeded the level that ordinary people could tolerate, causing light pollution and seriously affecting the normal lives of the plaintiff and other residents, which caused harm to environmental rights and interests, as well as the physical and mental health of the plaintiffs and others involved. Therefore, even if the plaintiff had no obvious symptoms, it was a fact that the plaintiff’s life was disrupted by light pollution and his environmental rights and interests had been damaged, so the defendant was liable for the tort, and under a duty to remove the nuisance.

Key environmental legal questions

Due to the potential, invisible and individually varying harm of light pollution to people, the court shall determine the damage caused by light pollution in a comprehensive way based on:

(i) national, local, and industry standards;

(ii) whether it has a negative impact upon the normal lives, work, and study of others; and

(iii) whether it exceeds public tolerance, etc. Public tolerance can be ascertained from the reactions of surrounding residents, the actual experience in specific locations, and expert opinions, etc.