Assault and Battery: What You Need to Know

If you’ve been intentionally hurt by another person, you may be entitled to compensation in a civil suit for assault and battery. Unlike a criminal assault and battery trial where the perpetrator is charged with a crime and faces punishments like prison time, in a civil trial they may be required to pay you. These payments can include the costs of any short- or long-term medical care you required because of your injuries, pain and suffering, or punitive damages.

Both a battery and an assault are classified as “intentional torts,” meaning the culprit did what they did on purpose. While the terms “assault” and “battery” are often used interchangeably, there are a few differences when used in a civil trial, and the requirements for either may vary by state. Knowing these differences will be important for filing your lawsuit and increasing your chances of getting all the compensation you deserve.

What is a Battery?

A battery is defined as a harmful contact from a person against another. To fit the legal definition of a battery, several elements must be met:

  • Action: The person you’re suing for battery must have done a specific act or movement, like swinging a fist.
  • Intent: You’ll need to prove that the person who battered you did so intentionally. In most jurisdictions, that means showing they either acted for the purpose of making a harmful contact with you, or they did an act that they knew was very likely to cause contact.
  • Contact: For a battery charge, the perpetrator has to actually make contact with you. A swing and a miss will usually fall short of the standards for a battery charge. The contact can either be harmful by causing some sort of injury, or it can be offensive, in which case you weren’t physically harmed but any reasonable person would have been offended by that kind of contact.
  • Your body: In most cases, in order for you to sue for battery, you need to be the one who was battered. This means the contact happened on your body, or things closely connected to your body, like the clothes you were wearing or an object you were holding.
  • Causation: You have to prove that the intentional act of the perpetrator was what caused the harmful or offensive contact with your person.

What is an Assault?

An assault is an action from one person to another that causes a reasonable apprehension that a battery is approaching. Assault is similar to battery, but requires different elements:

  • Action: Like battery, an assault requires the assaulter to have made a deliberate action or movement.
  • Intent: Assault also requires intent, whether the intent was purposeful or with near-certain knowledge. However, the intent here is not necessarily to cause harm, but to cause apprehension that harm is coming. Cocking a fist at you could be an assault, whether or not the punch is actually thrown.
  • Apprehension: You’ll need to prove that the other person’s actions caused you to reasonably anticipate that a battery was imminent. It’s not even usually necessary to prove you were afraid of the contact, just that you thought it was coming. It typically doesn’t count as apprehension if you weren’t aware of the threat or you didn’t believe the threat was real. A person who surprised you with a hit from behind that you didn’t expect may not meet the criteria of assault, even if it will for battery.
  • Causation: Here you’ll need to prove that the perpetrator’s intentional action caused your apprehension, and that a reasonable person in a similar situation would have felt apprehension, too.

An assault often precedes a battery, but won’t always. So it’s possible to have a charge for both assault and battery, just battery, or just assault.

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