Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Booby trap killing echoes textbook case

     As a homeowner, you can put a 12-foot-tall fence around your property and top it with coils of razor-sharp concertina wire. The law will make no trouble for you, provided there aren’t zoning regulations regarding fence height.
     But if inside the fence you dig a moat, and line it with spikes, so that anybody brash enough to go over the top of your fence might be impaled, you could set yourself up for serious jail time.
     Why? Anybody? C’mon folks, you’ve got to do these readings.
     Katko v. Briney, a classic legal case on the tip of the tongue of anybody who ever went to law school or who, like me, typed his wife’s law school papers.
     On a July day in 1967, Marvin E. Katko broke into an unoccupied Iowa farmhouse, where the owners, tired of such break-ins, had set a shot-gun on an iron bed frame with the trigger wired to the door and the muzzle pointed toward it.
     The booby trap worked, the shotgun firing into Katko’s legs. The injured intruder sued the farmhouse owners, Edward and Bertha Briney.
     “Did Defendants employ a reasonable means of preventing the unlawful entry of trespassers on their property?” asks the CaseBriefs web site.
     The Iowa Supreme Court said no, concluding, “the law has always placed a higher value upon human safety than upon mere rights in property.”
     It awarded Katko $30,000 in damages. The Brineys had to sell 2/3 of the land on their farm to pay it.
     Alas, William Wasmund did not go to law school, nor type his wife’s papers, apparently. Nor did the Downstate man pause to ask himself whether rigging a 12-gauge shotgun to the door of a shed on his property was a good idea.

To continue reading, click here.


  1. As Mr. Bumble said: The law is an ass!

  2. I never went to law school but have always loved the law. I read about cases all the time, and of course, there was "Law and Order" on the tube.
    This link has a few cases most folks should know of:

  3. I've met a few people who think their property is worth more than someone else's life.


  4. A part time job at the U. of C. involved returning books to the Law Library stacks. Not a great deal of work involved, but I was able to pass the free time reading Supreme Court decisions. Also benefited by reading "An Introduction to Legal Reading," by Edward H. Levy, then dean of the laws school.



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