North Carolina Man Edwin Smith was shot with his own shotgun booby trap, and then told 911 “the squirrels did me in.” (To be fair, he was trying to feed the squirrels at the time his trap went off. If they hadn’t been hungry, none of this would have happened.)
Let’s talk about booby traps from a legal perspective. Is it legal to use booby traps as property defense? Not at all.
What’s worse than a criminal stealing your things? That same criminal suing you in a personal injury lawsuit, too.
What if there is a sign warning people to trespass at their own risk – do they still have a lawsuit if they were warned? Yes. Mr. Smith was serious about defending his property; he constructed a large sign that warned “crackheads, drug dealers and illegal aliens” not to trespass. The sign wouldn’t have made any difference in a trespasser’s ability to seek compensation for injuries.
If Mr. Smith’s trap had fired on a trespasser, and injury or wrongful death had resulted, then Federal and State laws would have not been on his side. In this Denver case, a man took the law into his own hands with a booby trap after becoming frustrated with the lack of police response to multiple break-ins. The community was more than sympathetic because Mr. Connaghan’s trap killed a violent skinhead who had stolen from him multiple times – but Mr. Connaghan ultimately paid nearly $10,000 in fines, spent six years in probation and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He said he was deeply sorry for what had happened and he regretted the trap, which had been the wrong solution to the problem.
Even in Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, there is no provision for being able to use deadly force (or a booby trap delivering deadly force) to protect property. A person may be justified in using deadly force if either they believe such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself, or another; to prevent a forcible felony; or such force is used from within their dwelling, residence or vehicle.
Even if it seems wrong that your intruder could sue you for bodily harm caused by a spring gun or booby trap on the other end of their choices, they can.
In 1971’s Katko v. Briney, the intruder Katko prevailed against Briney after Briney’s spring gun set-up left him with severe shotgun wounds. The Supreme Court ruled that using deadly force on unoccupied property was neither reasonable or justified, and the plaintiff’s status as a trespasser was irrelevant when assessing liability.
Simply put, the law puts a higher value on human safety than property.
Also consider that booby traps are a hazard for fire and police, children, trick-or-treaters, and those seeking emergency shelter…not to mention owners who forget to deactivate their own traps.