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Bird v. Holbrook

    Citation. 130 eng. Rep. 911 (C.P. 1825).

    Brief Fact Summary. Bird (Defendant) set a spring gun trap in his garden to protect his property. The spring gun trap injured Holbrook (Plaintiff) innocent trespasser.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. No man can do indirectly that which he is forbidden to do directly.


    Facts. Defendant occupied a walled garden in which Defendant grew valuable tulips. Defendant’s garden had been robbed of flowers and roots worth 20 pounds. To protect his property, Defendant decided to set up a spring gun in the garden.

    Issue. Is Defendant permitted to set a spring gun trap to protect his property?

    Held. No. Judgment for Plaintiff.
    * One who sets spring gun trap for the purpose of catching an intruder without posting a notice is liable for damages. In this case, Defendant placed the spring gun trap for the purpose of doing injury. Defendant decided not to give notice of the spring gun trap because if he did, he would not catch the thief. Defendant intended the gun to be discharged into the victim.

    Concurrence. (J. Burrough) Notice of the spring gun trap should have been given. If the Defendant wanted only to protect his property from thieves, then he would have set the spring gun trap only at night. Plaintiff was only a trespasser. If Defendant were present he would not even be allowed to take Plaintiff into custody. No man can do indirectly that which he is forbidden to do directly.

    Discussion. Defendant placed of a spring gun in his house to protect his property. If the spring gun is tripped, it would not be able to distinguish between the innocent trespasser or the intentional trespasser. Here, Defendant is held liable, and Plaintiff happens to be an innocent trespasser. It is not clear how the court would have held had Plaintiff been an actual burglar.

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