United Zinc Chemical Co v. Britt, No. 164

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtHOLMES
Citation36 A.L.R. 28,258 U.S. 268,66 L.Ed. 615,42 S.Ct. 299
Docket NumberNo. 164
Decision Date27 March 1922
PartiesUNITED ZINC & CHEMICAL CO. v. BRITT et ux

258 U.S. 268
42 S.Ct. 299
66 L.Ed. 615
UNITED ZINC & CHEMICAL CO.

v.

BRITT et ux.

No. 164.
Submitted March 13, 1922.
Decided March 27, 1922.

Messrs. Henry D. Ashley and Wm. S. Gilbert, both of Kansas City, Mo., for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 268-272 intentionally omitted]

Page 272

Messrs. F. J. Oyler, of Iola, Kan., and Fred Robertson, of Kansas City, Kan., for respondents.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 272-274 intentionally omitted]

Page 274

Mr. Justice HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit brought by the respondents against the petitioner to recover for the death of two children, sons of the respondents. The facts that for the purposes of decision we shall assume to have been proved are these. The petitioner owned a tract of about twenty acres in the outskirts of the town of Iola, Kansas. Formerly it had there a plant for the making of sulphuric acid and zinc spelter. In 1910 it tore the buildings down but left a basement and cellar, in which in July, 1916, water was accumulated, clear in appearance but in fact dangerously poisoned by sulphuric acid and zinc sulphate that had come in one way or another from the petitioner's works, as the petitioner knew. The respondents had been travelling and encamped at some distance from this place. A travelled way passed within 120 or 100 feet of it. On July 27, 1916, the children, who were eight and eleven years old, came upon the petitioner's land, went into the water, were poisoned and died. The petitioner saved the question whether it could be held liable. At the trial the Judge instructed the jury that if the water looked clear but in fact was poisonous and thus the children were allured to it the petitioner was liable. The respondents got a verdict and judgment, which was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 264 Fed. 785.

Union Pacific Ry. Co. v. McDonald, 152 U. S. 262, 14 Sup. Ct. 619, 38 L. Ed. 434, and kindred cases were relied upon as leading to the result, and perhaps there is language in that and in Sioux City & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Stout, 17 Wall. 657, 21 L. Ed. 745, that might seem to justify it; but the doctrine needs very careful statement not to make an unjust and impracticable requirement. If the children had been adults they would have had no case.

Page 275

They would have been trespassers and the owner of the land would have owed no duty to remove even hidden danger; it would have been entitled to assume that they would obey the law and not trespass. The liability for spring guns and mantraps arises from the fact that the defendant has not rested on that assumption, but on the contrary has expected the trespasser and prepared and injury that is no more justified than if he had held the gun and fired it. Chenery v. Fitchburg R. R. Co., 160 Mass, 211, 213, 35 N. E. 554, 22 L. R. A. 575. Infants have no greater right to go upon other people's land than adults, and the mere fact that they are infants imposes no duty upon landowners to expect them and to prepare for their safety. On the other hand the duty of one who invites another upon his land not to lead him into a trap is well settled, and while it is very plain that temptation is not invitation, it may be held that knowingly to establish and expose, unfenced, to children of an age when they follow a bait as mechanically as a fish, something that is certain to attract them, has the legal effect of an invitation to them although not to an adult. But the principle if accepted must be very cautiously applied.

In Railroad Co. v. Stout, 17 Wall. 657, 21 L. Ed. 745, the well-known case of a boy injured on a turntable, it appeared that children had played there before to the knowledge of employees of the railroad, and in view of that fact and the situation of the turntable near a road without visible separation, it seems to have been assumed without much discussion that the railroad owed a duty to the boy. Perhaps this was as strong a case as would be likely to occur of maintaining a known temptation, where temptation takes the place of invitation. A license was implied and liability for a danger not manifest to a child was declared in the very similar case of Cooke v. Midland Great Western Ry. of Ireland [1909], A. C. 229.

In the case at bar it is at least doubtful whether the water could be seen from any place where the children lawfully

Page 276

were and there is no evidence that it was what led them to enter the land. But that is necessary to start the supposed duty. There can be no general duty on the part of a land-owner to keep his land safe for children, or even free from hidden dangers, if he has not directly or by implication invited or licensed them to come...

To continue reading

Request your trial
175 practice notes
  • Lucas v. Hammond, 27014
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • April 9, 1928
    ...R. Co. v. Williams, 69 Miss. 631; Y. & M. V. R. R. Co. v. Huff, 111 Miss. 486. In United Zinc & Chemical Co. v. Van Britt, 258, U.S. 68, 66 L.Ed. 615, the owner of property had situated on his property a plant for making sulphuric acid and zinc sulphate. The buildings were torn down, but th......
  • Huckleberry v. Mo. Pac. Railroad Co., No. 28139.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • April 2, 1930
    ...of a nuisance does not give a cause of action to a trespasser, as was the deceased. 45 C.J. 747; United Zinc & Chemical Co. v. Britt, 258 U.S. 268, 66 L. Ed. 516; West v. Shaw, 112 Pac. (Wash.) 243; Forsythe v. Gro. Co., 283 Mo. ATWOOD, P.J. Claud Huckleberry and Anna Huckleberry commenced ......
  • Henson v. International Paper Co., No. 3745.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 17, 2004
    ...in the case. Id. Although in the past this position was accepted by a number of jurisdictions, see United Zinc & Chemical Co. v. Britt, 258 U.S. 268, 42 S.Ct. 299, 66 L.Ed. 615 (1922) (holding same), the 358 S.C. 153 principle is now generally rejected. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 3......
  • Erie Co v. Tompkins, No. 367
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1938
    ...application of the doctrine can be found than in decisions of this Court speaking through Mr. Justice Holmes. United Zinc Co. v. Britt, 258 U.S. 268, 42 S.Ct. 299, 66 L.Ed. 615, 36 A.L.R. 28; Baltimore & O.R.R. Co. v. Goodman, 275 U.S. 66, 70, 48 S.Ct. 24, 25, 72 L.Ed. 167, 56 A.L.R. 645. W......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
175 cases
  • Lucas v. Hammond, 27014
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • April 9, 1928
    ...v. Williams, 69 Miss. 631; Y. & M. V. R. R. Co. v. Huff, 111 Miss. 486. In United Zinc & Chemical Co. v. Van Britt, 258, U.S. 68, 66 L.Ed. 615, the owner of property had situated on his property a plant for making sulphuric acid and zinc sulphate. The buildings were torn down, but t......
  • Huckleberry v. Mo. Pac. Railroad Co., No. 28139.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • April 2, 1930
    ...of a nuisance does not give a cause of action to a trespasser, as was the deceased. 45 C.J. 747; United Zinc & Chemical Co. v. Britt, 258 U.S. 268, 66 L. Ed. 516; West v. Shaw, 112 Pac. (Wash.) 243; Forsythe v. Gro. Co., 283 Mo. ATWOOD, P.J. Claud Huckleberry and Anna Huckleberry commen......
  • Henson v. International Paper Co., No. 3745.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 17, 2004
    ...the case. Id. Although in the past this position was accepted by a number of jurisdictions, see United Zinc & Chemical Co. v. Britt, 258 U.S. 268, 42 S.Ct. 299, 66 L.Ed. 615 (1922) (holding same), the 358 S.C. 153 principle is now generally rejected. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § ......
  • Erie Co v. Tompkins, No. 367
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1938
    ...application of the doctrine can be found than in decisions of this Court speaking through Mr. Justice Holmes. United Zinc Co. v. Britt, 258 U.S. 268, 42 S.Ct. 299, 66 L.Ed. 615, 36 A.L.R. 28; Baltimore & O.R.R. Co. v. Goodman, 275 U.S. 66, 70, 48 S.Ct. 24, 25, 72 L.Ed. 167, 56 A.L.R. 64......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT