Bird v Holbrook (1825)
130 Eng. Rep. 911 (C.P.)
The defendant rented a walled garden for tulips. After the garden was robbed of flowers.,
the defendant placed a spring gun with wires passing the flower bed. While retrieving a
stray pea-fowl from the garden in the late afternoon, the plaintiff set off the spring gun
and was wounded severely above the knee.
Whether a land owner is responsible for the damages from a spring gun protecting his
land from trespass and larceny.
The court ruled that the plaintiff’s action was maintainable.
The court ruled that setting spring guns without giving notice is inhumane and that he
who sets the spring guns is liable for the damages. It was decided that the defendant
placed the spring gun with the express purpose of doing injury.
A consent by Judge Burroughs agrees that consent should have been given, and also
argues that since the plaintiff was only a trespasser, the defendant would not even have
been authorized to take him into custody.
Correct: The defendant intended harm and enacted that harm and is therefore responsible
for his actions.
Incorrect: The defendant should be entitled the protection of his land.
The statutory response to the spring guns was actually enacted during the course of this
case. Trespassers were disallowed from redress if they were aware of the spring woods,
and the setters of spring guns would be prosecuted criminally for a misdemeanor.
Posner interprets the case economically as the accommodation between protecting the
tulips and keeping the animals. He finds notification of spring guns to be an ingenious
In a case about a shotgun trap at a boarded-up storage home, the court in Katko v Briney
(1971) affirmed jury instructions that the lawful protection of property could not include
means of force that would take human life or inflict great bodily harm.
M’Ilovy v Cockran (1820) involved a defendant shooting and severely wounding the
plaintiff while attempting to tear down the defendant’s fence. The court found the
defendant liable on the ground that when one enters without force, there must be a
request to depart before the possessor may use force.