In tort law, civil assault refers to an intentional tort which consists of a threat of harm that creates fear in a victim. The tort is usually made with the intention of inflicting injury on someone else, and has been defined as an attempt to inflict a harmful or offensive contact upon another without justification.
Civil assault is also called by other names, including simple assault and tortious assault.
Specifically, civil assault can be found when the person committing the assault (the defendant), creates a reasonable apprehension (dread or fear) in the victim (the plaintiff), of an immediate harm or offensive contact to the plaintiff’s person. The defendant must have had the intent to cause the assault. Actual harm or damages are not required for a claim of civil assault to exist.
Another element to a civil assault claim can be that the defendant has the apparent ability to cause harm. In other words, a defendant who has the capacity or opportunity under the circumstances to cause you or others harm may be found guilty if all the other elements are met.
It’s important to note that words alone are not enough to sue someone for civil assault. Words, combined with an action to create an immediate fear of being harmed, would be sufficient to file a claim for civil assault against someone.
Although apprehension can cause fear, in some cases it needs to be distinguished from just fear or intimidation. For example, a 90-year-old woman can create a reasonable fear of an assault towards a 300-pound linebacker, and thus be found guilty of assault even though he may not be fearful so-to-speak.
What’s the Difference Between Civil Assault and Criminal Assault?
The elements of proof for civil assault and criminal assault have some similarities.
Both civil assault and criminal assault require that a defendant create a reasonable apprehension of harm towards a plaintiff. In other words, the plaintiff felt that physical harm would happen to them very soon after the defendant’s threat. The victim doesn’t actually need to be physically struck in order to make a claim since it’s enough that the defendant caused an apprehension of being hit or contacted in an offensive manner. However, the attempt to cause a battery must go beyond mere preparation and come very close to completion for a criminal assault claim.
Second, assault charges in civil and criminal cases require that it was the aggressor’s action which triggered the apprehension of harm. The flip side is that the victim’s apprehension must be objectively reasonable (reasonable person standard).
The primary difference between civil assault and criminal assault in the court system boils down to the two distinctly different legal goals: compensation or deterrence (preventing crimes from happening again in the future through punishment). The civil justice system’s sole purpose for punishing damages or injuries is to compensate the victim monetarily, while the primary goal of the criminal justice system is punishment.
In a civil assault case, the victim can ask for monetary damages from the person who caused the harm through a lawsuit.
Criminal assault is a criminal action taken against another person which can lead to imprisonment if convicted. The person who caused the harm is typically prosecuted by a district attorney.
What is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?
Since these two terms are often used together, it’s worth mentioning the difference between them.
An assault can be committed by a threat, while a battery occurs through physical contact.
The tort of battery is generally defined as having the intent to harm or offensively contact another person, and then causing them harm. It’s important to note that merely bumping into someone accidentally in a crowded area, for example, would not be considered a battery, since there is no intent to harm them.
The intent to inflict injury is required for punishment in criminal cases involving assault, as it is required for civil tort cases. An example would be someone that you don’t see throws a rock at the person next to you, and it misses you both. If you file charges, a potential claim for criminal assault could stand while a civil assault may not, since you didn’t know the rock was being thrown and therefore did not have immediate apprehension of an imminent threat.
Threats are punishable under tort law when they instill fear in their victim. However, if someone makes threats without causing their victim to feel threatened, then no tort exists and therefore there would be no case for damages against them.
An example of this would be someone waving a baseball bat over your head while you were asleep. Since you would be unaware of the imminent threat, no civil assault could occur. If that same person strikes you with the bat, then they could be found guilty of criminal assault and battery.
Civil tort claims typically do not require any type of physical damage as long as there is some “bodily invasion”, such as fear or anxiety. Lastly, the tort of battery requires that the defendant caused a “bodily injury” while assault only requires a reasonable apprehension of harm.
What Are Examples of Defenses to Civil Assault?
If you have been accused of assaulting someone, you may be wondering what defenses are available to you. Some defenses include:
1) Self-Defense: A person may use force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person must use no more force than appears reasonably necessary in the circumstances.
In addition, a claim for self-defense must not violate any other laws or well-established social customs, such as the right to defend one’s personal safety. The defendant has sound reason to believe that they were in imminent danger and really believed that the force used was necessary. At the time of the assault, their state of mind was clear so if they later become aware that what they did was wrong and regretted it, then the assault charge may stand.
2) Defense of Property: A person may use reasonable and appropriate non-deadly force against another for the purpose of defending his or her property from imminent destruction or theft as long as they reasonably believe that such conduct is necessary for this purpose.
3) Defense of Another Person: A person may also use reasonable and appropriate force against another where a third party would be justified under these same conditions. This can happen if they reasonably believed that their intervention was necessary to protect the other person.
This defense can be used if you reasonably believe that your intervention was necessary to protect the other person. You must have acted reasonably and proportionately in order to use this defense. For example, if you punched someone who was attacking your friend, this would likely be considered a reasonable response and defense of another person could be used to justify your actions.
4) Consent: A person may use reasonable and appropriate force against another where that person has consented to such conduct. Some examples include contact sports like boxing, martial arts, football, and hockey.
5) Law Enforcement or Military Officers: A law enforcement or military officer is justified in using deadly force when they reasonably believe that it is necessary to defend themselves or another from death or grievous bodily harm.
6) Arrest: A law enforcement officer is also justified in using reasonable and appropriate force when making an arrest, provided that they reasonably believe that such force is necessary for making an arrest.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With a Civil Assault Claim?
In general, it’s usually necessary to hire a lawyer when filing a civil assault claim in court. The expertise of a lawyer will be needed for various tasks such as presenting legal arguments and providing evidence to be used for proof. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help represent you so that you can receive compensation for your losses.