Assault, Battery and Personal Injury Claims

By November 17, 2014Personal Injury Blog

When we think of personal injury claims, we usually think of injuries that are results of accidents.  Negligence is a tort claim and the person who acted, or failed to act and caused injury is responsible for those injuries to the wronged party.  Negligence claims may be covered by insurance, as long as the causation of injury was unintentional.  Intentional torts, assault and battery being the two most common, are not usually covered by insurance, therefore, legal cases must use a different tact when attempting to recover for such damages.

What is Assault?

Assault is usually defined as an intentional act that is meant to cause harm or even cause a “reasonable apprehension of imminent and harmful contact”.   In most states, assault claims are valid if there is no contact between the perpetrator and victim.  The victim only had to have a real fear of imminent harm, as long as the fear is ‘reasonable’ to the situation, it is considered assault.

It can be considered assault when a person shakes a fist at another and says that they were going to punch the other.   A different example is when someone points a fake gun at another and the person being pointed at actually believes the gun to be real and that he is going to be shot.  Also it could be considered assault if one were to drive a car towards someone and the person believes they would be run down, even if the driver never intended on hitting the person.

In assault it is the threat of attack or contact is all that is necessary to make a civil claim for damages.  These damages may be psychological / emotional in nature or even physical if the person was injured while fleeing the perceived danger.   One can imagine an injury to someone avoiding a speeding car and jumping of a bridge or even into a ditch while thinking they were going to be mowed down.

What Is Battery?

Battery’s definition varies by state, but is usually defined as an intentional tort where one person makes an intentional and harmful or offensive contact to another.  The offender instigates the contact and the victim is the recipient.  Battery and the resultant harm may be exemplified in several legal ways; direct and immediate, indirect and immediate, indirect and remote.

Direct and Immediate- Offender pushes the victim.

Indirect and Immediate- Offender throws an object and hits the victim.

Indirect and Remote- Offender sets a booby-trap for the victim which he falls into days later.

In most states, the contact itself is the Battery, injury does not have to occur in order for the contact to be considered a criminal act.  The behavior must only be offensive or inappropriate to a reasonable person.

It is possible for both assault to occur without battery, and battery to occur without an assault.  However, in most cases the two are linked as the event of battery is usually anticipated by the victim and therefore both assault and battery exist.   One might be hit from behind with a car, yet never have had to suffer the anticipation of the imminent danger, battery definitely occurred, but not occasioned with assault in that situation.

Damages in Assault and Battery Tort Cases

When an assault or batter resulted in no physical injuries or psychological damage, claims in tort are usually not pursued.  Civil courts are used as courts of equity, using monetary awards to make the victim as whole as possible.  The goal is to bring the victim back to the condition they were in before the tort took place.  Therefore, those torts from assault and battery where there was measurable injury are much more commonly pursued.

In order to determine values on the damages incurred from assault and battery incidents, courts look at things which are called ‘specials’, losses that occurred as a result of the injury sustained by the incident of assault and/or battery.  These specials include medical bills, loss of income, future medical bills, emotional distress and pain and suffering to list a few.  In order to make a victim whole that court will consider what damages are reasonable to consider when confronted with and experiencing conduct that was found to be assault and/or battery.  Damage awards in civil cases come in the form of a civil judgment and may be executed for collection by the victim should immediate payment not be made at the time the court issued a ruling in their favor.

Defenses to Assault and Battery Claims

There are legal excuses for assault and battery that the offender may raise in court in their defense.  If these excuses are found to be valid then a personal injury claims will not be successful, no matter how serious the injuries sustained by the victim.

Consent. An offender might claim that the victim agreed to the possibility of being hurt. This defense arises most often in cases of physical sports, such as football, soccer, and hockey or even paintball events.  In these cases, the parties have usually signed consent forms in order to participate, however, the existence of a signature on such a form is not required to find legal consent in most cases.

Privilege.  Law enforcement officers are often accused of assault and battery when making an arrest.  The legal defense of privilege might cover a police officer who used force while arresting the victim or someone near the victim.    The claims for damages sustained while an office was acting within the line of duty could likely fail as long as there was a reasonable and appropriate amount of physical force or action while performing on duty.

Self-defense or defense of others. If someone was acting in a self-defensive manner, or in the defense of others and was accused of assault and/or battery, this defense might succeed.  It is important to the court to find that the offending person was responding appropriately to a threat of harm.  The defending actions of the accused must be found to be reasonable by the court, the actions must have been what actions a reasonable person would do in similar circumstances.  An example would be if a person saw another about to be hit by a car unawares and pushed the person to safety, that push, or battery would not be a liable action as it was reasonable defense of another person.

If a person is injured by an intentional act of someone else, both civil and criminal courts are available to prosecute justice.  In many cases the criminal courts are overwhelmed with other cases that may be deemed more serious.  If a district attorney or city attorney does not prosecute your claim for damages via the criminal justice system, the civil system is there for you to use.  It is recommended that you seek counsel and advice from a personal injury attorney who can help you in these circumstances.  The advice of an attorney is key to holding someone responsible for damages caused intentionally, and also to assist in the collection of any judgment awarded.


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