Assault is generally defined as intentional act that makes another person apprehensive that imminent harmful or offensive conduct will occur. You do not have to touch someone for an assault to occur. While you may think of assault as a crime, it can also be viewed as a tort which can expose you to civil liability as well.
If you are sued for civil assault, you must meet the elements of the tort to be found liable. In addition, you may have a defense to the civil assault claim. However, if you are found liable of civil assault, you may be ordered to pay damages to the plaintiff for your actions.
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While the definition of assault varies between the states, generally the following elements need to be met:
- The act must be intentional;
- Example: You intend to point a gun at someone.
- The act must be overt, meaning that words alone will not create an assault unless you also do something that shows you intend to harm the person;
- Example: You tell someone that you are going to hurt them while you are holding a blunt object.
- The victim must have been aware of the danger (most states require this); and
- The victim must have believed that harm or offensive conduct was going to occur.
If a lawsuit is filed against you for civil assault, you may have defenses to the claim. This will depend on your state’s laws and whether you have an excuse for the alleged assault. Some examples of defenses to civil assault are:
- Denial that one of all of the assault elements occurred;
- You were acting in self-defense;
- You were acting to defend another person;
- You had consent to assault the victim; and
- You had the legal right to assault someone.
- This is referred to as privilege and is usually limited to a police officer making an arrest.
If you are found liable for civil assault, you may have to pay the plaintiff compensatory damages. The amount can vary based on your state laws and the severity of the assault. In addition, you could face punitive damages, which are meant to punish you and prevent the same conduct from happening in the future.
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If you have been sued for civil assault, you should contact a personal injury attorney to represent you in court. An attorney can let you know if the claim has merit and whether you may have any defenses.