Brief Fact Summary.
Briney set up a 20-gauge spring shotgun in his old and uninhabited farmhouse without any warnings (though he did place “no trespass” signs on the land). Katko was shot in the leg while breaking and entering into Briney’s farmhouse, causing the permanent deformation of his leg.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
There is no privilege to use deadly force or force that would cause serious bodily injury to repel trespassers unless there was a threat that would justify self-defense.
The liability for spring guns and mantraps arises from the fact that the defendant has not rested on that assumption, but on the contrary has expected the trespasser and prepared an injury that is no more justified than if he had held the gun and fired it.View Full Point of Law
Due to a series of trespassing and housebreaking over the course of ten years, Briney set up a 20-gauge spring shotgun pointed toward an intruder’s leg in a bedroom of his old farmhouse that had been uninhabited for several years. Briney also situated “no trespass” signs on the land, the nearest which was 35 feet from the house.
Katko and McDonough broke and entered into Briney’s farm house to find and steal old bottles and dated fruit jars, at which point Katko was shot in the leg by the spring gun. He remained in the hospital for 40 days, and his leg was permanently deformed and shortened.
May an owner protect personal property in an unoccupied boarded-up farm house against trespassers and thieves by a spring gun capable of inflicting death or serious injury?
No, an owner may not protect personal property in an unoccupied boarded-up farm house against trespassers and thieves by a spring gun capable of inflicting death or serious injury.
This case presents two vital questions:
When an owner has stored valuables and evidence is sufficient to show that the spring gun was only meant to ward off trespassers as a warning, punitive damages are not appropriate given the lack of intent to do serious bodily injury.
The law values human safety over mere property rights.
In Hooker v. Miller, a vineyard owner was found liable for a spring gun that shot a trespasser who was there to steal grapes. The court there found that a mere trespass against property other than a dwelling is not a sufficient justification to authorize the use of a deadly weapon by the owner in its defense; and that if death results in such a case it will be murder, though the killing be actually necessary to prevent the trespass.”
Here, Briney set up a spring gun in his uninhabited and old farmhouse. There was no indication that the spring gun was in the bedroom, and there was no justification of self-defense, as Briney’s house was several miles from the scene of the incident.