The Law School Authority

Katko v. Briney Case Brief

Summary of Katko v. Briney, S. Ct. Iowa, 1971

Facts: Df secured to an iron bed a shotgun, with the barrel pointed downward. It was rigged with wire from the doorknob to the gun’s trigger so it would fire when the door opened.  The spring gun could not be seen from outside.  No warning of its presence was posted.  PL had broken and entered the house to find and steal old bottles and dated fruit jars which they considered antiques. PL opened the door the shotgun went off striking him in the right leg above the ankle bone.  Much of his leg was blown away.

Issue: Whether an owner may protect personal property, an unoccupied dwelling, against trespassers and thieves by the use of a spring gun?

Holding: No

Procedure: Jury returned verdict for PL. Df M for NOV denied.  Affirmed.

Rule: The only time the setting of a spring gun or like dangerous devise is allowed is when the trespasser was committing a violent felony or a felony punishable by death, or when the trespasser was endangering human life.

Ct. Rationale: The value of human life and limb outweighs the interest of a possessor of land in excluding from it those whom he is not wiling to admit thereto that a possessor of land has no privilege to use force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury against another whom the possessor sees about to enter his premises or meddle with his chattel, unless the intrusion threatens death or serious bodily injury.  Therefor the use of a mechanical devise capable of death or serious injury to protect property at the expense of life or limb is no privilege.

PL A: The df is liable for injury caused by a devise that causes serious bodily injury simply for trespass of chattel.

Def A: The law permits use of a spring gun in a dwelling or warehouse for the purpose of preventing the unlawful entry of a burglar or thief.




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