Assault is a tort and occurs when one person intentionally places anther in a state of fear. There are three types of assault: simple assault, assault and battery and aggravated assault. Each type of assault is intended to instill fear and may even involve physical pain against another person.
Tort Law on Assault
Two men walk outside the bar…
this may sound like the beginning of a funny joke, but if this leads to one of the men pulling a sucker punch on the other, it is no laughing matter. It is assault. The interesting thing about assault is that it does not have to lead to physical harm. It can be instilling imminent fear of physical harm against another person.Assault is a tort, and means, in common law, that someone did wrong to another person. Under tort law, it is a civil action but is also considered a criminal act. For our purposes, we will focus on the tort of assault.
Under tort law, there is a plaintiff, who is the injured party, and a tortfeasor, who essentially is the defendant in the action.A plaintiff in a tort of assault case can sue for pecuniary damages, like money or compensation for injury and any loss suffered as a result of the injury. Time lost from work because of medical treatment and court appearances may also qualify as damages.Let’s go back to the gentlemen at the bar. If the two men exchanged a few off-color words, an assault did not take place.
Merely exchanging choice words without one person feeling fearful of physical violence is not enough to prove intent to harm. However, if those choice words included direct threats, like ‘I’m going to kick your butt,’ or ‘You’re going to eat a knuckle sandwich,’ this may qualify as assault.Certain elements must be present to prove an assault occurred:
- The plaintiff perceived immediate physical contact with the defendant
- Plaintiff had suspicion that he was in imminent danger
- The actions of the defendant, or tortfeasor, were intentional, not accidental
In other words, the plaintiff must prove that tortious conduct occurred and that the conduct was exacted against him and resulted in some type of damage.Now keep in mind, an important element of assault is intent. It must be demonstrated that the tortfeasor acted in a purposeful way to cause harm to another person.
We will rely on a classic example to demonstrate intent. If a person was to pull a knife on another person, regardless of whether the knife was made of clay or steel, this action is considered an assault, even in the absence of threatening words.Conversely, if a person yells, ‘I’m going to stab you,’ and no knife is present, this may not be considered assault because without a knife, there can be no real intent to cause harm at that moment. Sometimes a simple assault can lead to a more heinous action, like physical violence.
Assault and Battery
What happens when a threat turns to a violent act? We know that assault is the lesser crime because no physical action took place.
However, when assault is coupled with physical harm, like a punch or a kick, the offense is considered not one, but two torts.Assault and battery is the combining of both threats and physical action together, which places another person in imminent fear and then in physical contact with the assailing person. The elements for assault and battery are the same with the addition of a few more that involve:
- Physical touch that was harmful and offensive
- The touch was intentional
- The touch caused fear and physical harm
- The touch was uninvited
When we last visited the bar, the two men were only exchanging threats. If things heat up, leaving one guy standing and the other with a black eye and a bloody nose, this would be considered assault and battery. It would be reasonable to believe that the elements of assault were present. Any time a man punches another guy in the face, one would experience imminent fear, believe the threat to be serious and perceive the action to be intentional.
Taking it through the added elements of battery, the act of physical contact caused injury, the knockout was intentionally meant for the victim and it would be reasonable to believe that being pummeled was not a welcomed event for the victim. To take this one step further, what if this square off between two bar patrons ends in something even more violent, like a stabbing or a shooting?
Similar to assault and battery, aggravated assault involves a violent physical act against another person, but with the intent to cause serious intentional physical harm. This act is purposeful and reckless in nature and demonstrates indifference to human life. This could be murder, rape or even driving under the influence in some cases. There are elements that are required to prove aggravated assault:
- Plaintiff felt imminent fear
- The act was committed with force (a deadly weapon) that would cause serious bodily injury
- Defendant had the ability to apply deadly force enough to cause serious injury
A deadly weapon does not always have to be a gun or a knife.
It can be any object, including hands and feet, that can cause serious injury to another person. Interestingly enough, in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter,’ a wife, upset that her husband wanted a divorce, used a frozen leg of lamb as a deadly weapon.After he professed his love for another woman, she ran to the kitchen to retrieve the lamb leg and laid into him with a full swing to the back of the head, killing him.
This once humble piece of meat became the weapon used to kill a man. In a funny twist, the wife cooked and served the leg of lamb to the police officers who investigated the murder.
Assault is a tort, and means, in common law, that someone did wrong to another person. Under tort law, it is a civil action, but is also considered a criminal act. For our purposes, we will focus on the tort of assault. There are two parties to an assault, the plaintiff, who is the injured party, and the defendant, or tortfeasor, who committed the assault.
To prove the civil action of an assault, the plaintiff would have had to perceive immediate physical contact with the defendant, had a suspicion that he was in imminent danger and the actions of the defendant, or tortfeasor, were intentional, not accidental.A more severe assault involves battery as well. Assault and battery is the combining of both threats and physical action together.
This can be done using fists or feet and involves a few more elements, like physical touch that was harmful and offensive, intentional, caused fear and physical harm and was uninvited.The most heinous of assault torts is aggravated assault, and this uses deadly force. There are a couple more elements required for this action. The plaintiff felt imminent fear, the act was committed with force using a deadly weapon that can cause serious bodily injury and the defendant had the ability to apply deadly force enough to cause serious injury.
All three assaults in a civil action are subject to pecuniary damages, like money or compensation for injury, and any loss suffered as a result of the injury. Time lost from work because of medical treatment and court appearances may qualify as damages.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:
- Define tort and assault
- List and describe the three types of assault
- Understand that under tort law, there is a plaintiff and a tortfeasor, or defendant, involved
- Define pecuniary damages
- Identify the three elements that must be present to prove that an assault, or tortious conduct, occurred
- List the additional three elements that must be present in order to prove aggravated assault
- Determine whether or not an event qualifies as assault