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Katko v. Briney

Supreme Court of Iowa
183 N.W.2d 657 (Iowa 1971)



Mr. and Mrs. Briney (defendants) own a farmhouse, which is not used as their home and which remains vacant. In response to many years of break‑ins and trespassers, Mr. Briney set up a spring gun trap in one of the house’s bedrooms. The trap consisted of a shotgun pointed at the bedroom door and rigged to fire when the door was opened. Though originally set up to hit an intruder in the stomach, at Mrs. Briney’s suggestion the shotgun was lowered to hit an intruder’s legs. The spring gun could not be seen from outside the bedroom, and there was no warning or indication of its presence. Katko (plaintiff) knew the house had been unoccupied for years and considered it abandoned. Katko and a friend went to the house and collected old bottles and jars as antiques. On a subsequent visit to the house, Katko opened the bedroom door, setting off the shotgun trap. Katko was struck in the right leg and seriously injured. The jury awarded Katko compensatory and punitive damages. The trial court denied the Brineys’ motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for new trial.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Moore, C.J.)

Dissent (Larson, J.)

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