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Katko v. Briney

Citation. 183 N.W.2d 657
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Brief Fact Summary.

Defendant installed “a shotgun trap” in his old, unoccupied farmhouse to protect against intruders and thieves. Plaintiff broke into the farmhouse and was shot in the leg. Plaintiff suffer a permanent deformity as a result of his injury.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The value of human life outweighs an person’s interest in safeguarding their property rights when no human life is endangered.


Briney owned an unoccupied boarded-up farmhouse. Due to a series of intrusions and thefts, Briney boarded up the windows and doors and posted “no trespass” signs along the property. He also installed “a shotgun trap” in the home that was capable of inflicting death or serious injury. No warning was posted indicating the presence of the trap inside the home. Katko trespassed upon Briney’s property, intending to steal old bottles and dated fruit jars. When Katko opened the door to the farmhouse, he was shot in the leg by the trap. As a result of the injury, Katko suffered a permanent deformity, including a shortening of his leg. Katko sued for damages.


Whether a person may protect his or her property against trespassers and thieves by deadly force?


No. The value of human life is more important than a person’s property interests. The use of deadly force to protect a person’s property is only justified if human life is endangered by the trespass. The trial court’s ruling is affirmed.


Justice Larson

The trial court judge should have instructed the jury to consider whether Briney had the requisite intent for the tortious conduct.


The Restatement of Torts states that the value of human life and limb outweighs the property owner’s interest in protecting their land. The use of deadly force is not justified in protecting property unless the intrusion threatens death or seriously bodily harm to the occupants. In many jurisdictions, a landowner may be also held criminally liable for serious injuries cause by spring guns or similar devices.

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