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Katko v. Briney

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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff was shot by a trap set by the defendant when he tried to rob the defendant’s farm house

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

One cannot do through mechanical device what one could not do in person.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Questions not presented to and not passed on by the trial court cannot be raised or reviewed on appeal.

View Full Point of Law

Defendant’s farm house was robbed several times, and she set up a shotgun to shot at anyone who tried to break in.  The plaintiff tried to break in, and was shot, sustaining injuries.


Was the defendants use of the shotgun trap lawful?


No, one cannot do through a mechanical device what one could not do in person.


Justice Larson, J.

The justice dissents on the grounds that he thinks the defendant would need to be found to have the intent to employ unnecessary force on an intruder for liability to be imposed. If he had intended the gun to scare people away with the noise, then that is a factual inquiry.  He also feels that this result is against the general principle of damages because it creates the result of the plaintiff legally recovering for his crime.


The court held that one cannot do through a mechanical device what one could not do in person.  They opine that if the defendant were there in person and shot the plaintiff under the same circumstances, then that would have been unlawful, and that consequently the use of the trap was equally unlawful.

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