By Elspeth Crawford
The intentional torts of assault and battery are often grouped together as if they are one single cause of action. While it’s true that the two frequently appear beside one another, they are two entirely different torts with their own discrete set of requirements.
An assault occurs when a defendant gives a plaintiff the impression that they are going to harm him, but for an assault to be actionable the defendant need not actually harm the plaintiff. Assault has two requirements. First, the person committing the assault must act with the intention to cause a harmful or offensive contact with the person of the plaintiff or a third party. Second, the person committing the assault must act in such a way that the plaintiff has the imminent apprehension of contact.
A battery occurs when a defendant intends to cause a harmful or offensive contact with a plaintiff or a third person and actually does cause such a contact. Basically, if you are touched in way that is considered harmful or offensive, the person who touched you has committed a battery.
Consent is a defense to battery. Plaintiffs who consent to batteries before they happened have little chance of prevailing in court. In addition to freely given consent, the law assumes that people consent to ordinary and customary batteries that occur commonly throughout everyday life. For example, a plaintiff who sues a defendant for battery after the defendant bumps into him in a crowded subway car would likely not win the case because the court will hold that the plaintiff gave implied consent for the battery to occur.
While assault and battery are separate causes of action, they very often occur together. If plaintiff perceives that a defendant has raised his fist to strike him, and then the defendant actually does strike him, the defendant has committed both an assault and a battery. If you have been the victim of an assault, a battery, or both, you can bring one or more causes of action to recover.