The world began exploring the Final Frontier of Star Trek on September 8, 1966. To honor this anniversary, let’s explore the legal issues in The Man Trap.
Star Trek began with the age-old problem many of us have faced: an old flame turns out to be an alien sucking the salt out of people to survive.
Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, and Crewman Darnell beam down to M113 to on the only people on the desolate planet: Dr. Robert Crater and his wife Nancy.
Except Nancy was not actually Nancy. A shape-shifting creature that fed on salt had killed the real Nancy. Disclosing that information could have saved multiple lives. Did Dr. Crater have a duty to warn Captain Kirk about the “Salt Monster” on M113?
Dr. Crater told Kirk to leave them salt and get off his planet. However, no warning was given about the shape-shifting creature. The creature killed Crewman Darnell (after appearing to him as a blonde woman who arguably made a gesture follow him). The creature ultimately killed three more crew members of the USS Enterprise. Kirk and Spock had an armed standoff with Dr. Crater, where he stated “I will kill to be alone.” Dr. Crater did not disclose the existence of the Salt Creature until Kirk and Spock stunned and captured him.
Dr. Crater referred to M113 as “his” planet. The doctor could be liable for the deaths of the Enterprise crew on a theory of premises liability. One Court explained the rule as follows:
“The true ground of liability of the owner or occupant of property to an invitee who is injured thereon is the superior knowledge of the proprietor of the existence of a condition that may subject the invitee to an unreasonable risk of harm.”
Sutton v. Sutton (1978) 145 Ga.App. 22, 25-26, citing Gibson v. Consolidated Credit Corp., 110 Ga. App. 170 (2a); Holtzclaw v. Lindsay, 122 Ga. App. 703.
In the Sutton case, a property owner had superior knowledge of a dangerous bull that had charged his younger son. The property owner failed in his duty to warn his other son of the danger of the bull when he asked the son to assist in the capture of the animal. Id.
The same can be said for Dr. Crater. While the crew of the Enterprise was there to perform medical exams on Dr. and Mrs. Crater, Dr. Crater knew the Salt Monster had killed his wife Nancy. Crater was aware of the danger to human life and instead covered up the threat.
The Duty to Warn applies to “known dangers” that are “not apparent or obvious.” Isbell v. Carnival Corp. (S.D.Fla. 2006) 462 F.Supp.2d 1232, 1238. The Salt Monster’s danger is not obvious because it is a shape-shifter. Whether it actually transforms into a person or merely causes others to see an image within their minds, no person could realize they were being stalked as prey until it was too late.
Dr. Crater would have had a duty to warn the crew of the Enterprise of the Salt Monster, because of the creature’s predatory nature for salt and shape-shifting powers. If Dr. Crater had told Captain Kirk what the creature was, salt could have been provided, with the creature treated as an endangered species. Unfortunately, the create was on a killing spree and attacking Captain Kirk, forcing Dr. McCoy to kill the creature.
Now, Spock recommending truth serum be used on Dr. Crater to force him to disclose information on the creature would be a huge civil rights violation.