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Katko v. Briney

    Brief Fact Summary. After many years of experiencing frustrating housebreaking incidents upon their property, Defendant premises owners rigged a shotgun in a bedroom positioned to shoot trespassers in the legs upon opening the door.  Plaintiff Katko entered the bedroom unlawfully which triggered the gun and most of his entire right leg was blown away.  He sued Defendants Briney for damages and won.

     

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Premises owners do not have a privilege to protect their property using force intended or likely to cause death or serious harm against a trespasser.

     

    Facts. Defendant Briney inherited an unoccupied farm house.  For ten years there were a series of housebreaking events with damage to the property.  Frustrated with the vandalism, she and her husband set up a shotgun trap in one of the rooms which was rigged to shoot the legs of an intruder upon opening the door.  Plaintiff Katko broke into the house looking for bottles and jars.  He entered the rigged bedroom and much of his right leg and tibia was blown away, resulting in a 40-day hospital stay.  He sued the Defendants for damages.  The jury found for the plaintiff and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed. 

     

    Issue. Whether a property owner may use a spring gun for the purpose of preventing the unlawful entry of a burglar or thief.

     

    Held. No.  An owner of a premises is prohibited from willfully or intentionally injuring a trespasser by means of force that either takes life or inflicts great bodily injury, or is likely to do so.  The value of human life and limb outweighs the interest of a possessor of land in excluding from it trespassers.  There is no privilege to use force intended or likely to cause death or serious harm against a trespasser.

    Discussion. This decision stands for the proposition that a property owner is not entitled to use deadly force to defend his property from trespassers.


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