Katko v. Briney

Supreme Court of Iowa, 1971.

183 N.W.2d 657.

Prosser, p. 105-108


Facts: The Brineys set up a spring-loaded gun to protect against trespassers.It blew Katkoís leg off.Katko sued for personal injury and won.The defendants moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a new trial and were refused.They appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.


Issue: Does an owner have the privilege of protecting personal property with a spring gun?


Rule: You do not have the privilege to use force that may cause death or serious injury against trespassers unless the trespass itself threatens death or serious injury.


Analysis: The court reasons that the Brineys knew the power of the shotgun and gave no notice to any potential trespasser that the gun was there or where exactly on the property it was located.Furthermore, the property was unoccupied and neither death nor serious injury was threatened by any trespasser.


Conclusion: The court upheld the verdict.


Notes and Questions


1.     Weird!

2.     It sounds like the misreporting of this case led to new statutes being drafted that might not otherwise have been considered wise if the case had been reported accurately.

3.     So mistake does negate the privilege of defense of property.

4.     The force involved is limited in particular by the requirement that the peaceful trespasser first be asked to depart, except when the intruder is acting in such a way that a reasonable person would find that such a request is useless or canít be made in time.

5.     When can deadly or serious force be used to defend property?

A.   Such force can be used when your personal safety or that of your family is threatened.

B.    Such force can be used to prevent a crime.The more serious the crime, the greater the force that may be used.I donít think a modern court would allow deadly force to be used against burglary, but in the case of biological agents in a government facility where the burglary could subsequently lead to the death of many others, it may find deadly force is justified.

C.   Spring guns were outlawed in England based on public outcry against the result of the Ilott case.

D.   Most states have outlawed the use of spring guns and the like.Other states allow deadly force against, for example, attempted burglary.

E.    If the defendant gives the plaintiff notice, the privilege may be modified, especially if a dog is involved.Perhaps this really falls under self-defense.

F.    If you intent to commit an unlawful assault and it turns into a battery, the doctrine of transferred intent suggests youíre liable for all the results, even if you couldnít have foreseen them.

6.     You canít eject a trespasser if doing so would put that person in unreasonable physical danger.This might apply to making a drunken guest get in their car if the person is too drunk to resist.

7.     If personal safety is at risk, ejection is a more absolute right.There may be policy problems, however, if you apply this to a case where someone is ill with a contagious disease.

8.     Okay!


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