Bird v. Holbrook - Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 478 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: An important English tort case on liability for trespass to land, exploring the duty of care owed by property occupiers.


In the case of Bird v. Holbrook, the defendant set a spring gun in his garden to prevent intrusion. The spring gun was intended to go off when someone trespasses and was connected to some wires placed across the garden path. The defendant did not give any notice concerning the setting of this trap. The plaintiff, who was in pursuit of a straying fowl, entered the defendant's garden with no intention to steal and was injured by the spring gun on the property.


The primary issue of the case was to determine whether the doctrine of the occupier’s liability, which deals primarily with tort law, applied in situations where damage was inflicted by a man-made contraption set up and if the defendant is liable despite the plaintiff’s trespassing. The secondary issue at hand was if the defendant had a duty of care towards the plaintiff.


While the liability was established in favour of the plaintiff, this case has been criticised by many due to the apparent dichotomy in the treatment of trespassers within tort and criminal law. It also raises questions about the balance between an individual's right to protect their property and their duty of care to others. This judgment has further influenced the laws regarding self-defence in various jurisdictions.


The court ruled in favour of the plaintiff on the basis that it was unlawful for a man to set up such a man-trap on his premises without providing notice of such a contraption. The court drew upon the principle of common law highlighting that no one is allowed to do harm to another, an exception would be given where there was a direct threat. Thus, it was determined that the defendant was liable for the plaintiff's injuries.


  • Bird v. Holbrook, (1828) 4 Bing. 628; 130 E.R. 911.
  • Smith, Roger. Winfield and Jolowicz on Tort. 14th ed. Sweet & Maxwell, 2001.
  • Prosser, W. L. Handbook of the Law of Torts. West Publishing Company, 1971.

Journalist Brief

In Bird v. Holbrook, a man named Holbrook set up a spring gun in his garden without providing any notice about this. Bird accidentally trespassed Holbrook's garden while chasing a fowl, got injured by the spring gun. The court ruled in favour of Bird, stating that a person can’t set up man-traps without any warnings. This case forms a significant part of tort law, specifically relating to the duty of care property occupiers owe to others, including those who might be trespassing.


Who won the case of Bird v. Holbrook?

Answer: The plaintiff, Bird, won the case.

Did Holbrook set up a warning for his spring gun?

Answer: No, Holbrook did not set up any warning.

Which law does the case of Bird v Holbrook relate to?

Answer: This case relates to tort law, specifically the duty of care owed by property occupiers and self-defence law.

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