Katko v. Briney, Sup. Ct. Of Iowa,

183 N.W.2d 657 (1971)


Briney's (D) inherited a house from a dead relative. The unoccupied house had been the subject to a number of intrusions on many occasions over a ten-year period. D boarded the house up, and posted no trespassing signs but to no avail. D then installed a spring gun rigged to fire when a bedroom door was opened. D initially pointed the gun at the stomach but later changed it to point at the legs on the suggestion of his wife. The gun could not be seen from the outside, and there were no warning signs that the gun would fire if the door was opened. Katko (P) got his leg nearly blown off when he opened the door. P was a trespasser. P and his companion, Marvin McDonough, had broken and entered the house to find and steal old bottles and dated fruit jars which they considered antiques. P alleged that he thought the house was abandoned and had seen it on many occasions with high weeds. P had been to the property and had removed antique bottles from it on a prior occasion. P sued, and the verdict was in his favor. The action was tried to a jury consisting of residents of the community where D's property was located. P testified he knew he had no right to break and enter the house with intent to steal bottles and fruit jars therefrom. He further testified he had entered a plea of guilty to larceny in the nighttime of property of less than $20 value from a private building. He stated he had been fined $50 and costs and paroled during good behavior from a 60-day jail sentence. The jury returned a verdict for P and against D for $20,000 actual and $10,000 punitive damages. D appealed.