Assault and Battery as Personal Injury Claims

While most personal injury claims deal with accidental harm, assault and battery are examples of intentional harm that can lead to a personal injury lawsuit.

Assault is typically defined as any intentional act that causes a “reasonable apprehension of imminent and harmful contact” or is meant to do so. In other words, it is not necessary to actually strike someone to be guilty of assault; merely the reasonable threat to do so is enough to constitute assault.

Battery takes this definition one step further. Battery requires intentional and harmful contact with another person. The harmful or offensive contact does not have to cause physical harm to the victim in order to constitute battery; it only must be offensive or inappropriate to a reasonable person.

Assault and battery are, first and foremost, typically thought of as crimes. But when an instance of battery requires extensive medical attention, hospitalization, or other serious expenses, a personal injury suit is often the best way to recover one’s losses. While prison time or probation may serve to punish the attacker, without a personal injury suit, the victim has no way to recover the lost wages or medical bills suffered as a result of the incident. In these cases, the guilty party could face criminal proceedings brought by the state as well as a civil lawsuit brought by the injured party. It is entirely possible that the party at fault could be cleared of criminal charges but still be found liable in civil court; the burden of proof is lower in civil trials, so the negligent person(s) could be required to pay damages, regardless of guilt in criminal court.

Assault and battery are examples of intentional torts. A tort is defined as an act committed by one party that causes harm to another, including physical injury, property damage, or even damage to one’s reputation. Torts typically stem from negligence, i.e. the careless disregard for someone else’s well-being. Most torts do not deal with intent whatsoever—rather, they focus on the harm caused and who was at fault in the incident.

However, some torts—like assault and battery—go beyond simple negligence.  An intentional tort is an act committed with the intention of causing harm. What separates an intentional tort from any other tort is the mindset of the party at fault. For example, say someone rear-ends you at a stop light because he was distracted by a phone call; this would constitute a regular tort. But instead, say the driver was upset because you accidentally cut him off in traffic. To retaliate, he sped to catch up with you and sideswiped your car on purpose; this would constitute an intentional tort because the other driver clearly meant to cause harm.

The most difficult aspect of intentional torts is proving that the other party did, in fact, intend to cause you harm. In most personal injury cases, intent is irrelevant. But in an intentional tort, intent is everything. If the at-fault party can claim he or she did not actually intend to commit the harmful act, they could escape liability for the harm caused.