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Battery Basics

In civil personal injury claims and criminal law, the definition of battery is the intentional touching of, or application of force to, the body of another person in a harmful or offensive manner (and without consent). Battery is often confused with assault. Assault is the act of threatening battery or placing another in fear or reasonable apprehension of an impending and immediate battery (bodily injury). Assault almost always comes before battery, so the terms are often confused or combined, as in "assault and battery."

A person commits a battery if they act intentionally to cause harmful contact or offensive physical contact or to cause imminent apprehension of such contact and a harmful or offensive contact actually occurs. Battery is not limited to physical injury — other types of injuries will be considered for determining damages. Offenders may face civil liability and criminal charges for a single act.

A civil case involves claims between private parties. A criminal case comes from a government prosecutor on behalf of the state.

See Assault, Battery, and Intentional Torts to learn more.

Civil Battery (Tort)

Battery is an intentional tort, not an act resulting from negligence. The elements to establish the tort of battery are the same as for criminal battery, except that the case doesn't need to have criminal-specific intent. In personal injury cases, the elements of civil battery are:

  1. Intent (not criminal intent to cause injury but general intent to commit the act)
  2. Contact (non-consensual contact with the individual or their effects, such as clothing)
  3. Harm (the battery caused actual harm, meaning bodily harm, mental harm, or emotional harm, not limited to physical harm)

The requisite intent for a tortious battery to occur is merely to touch or make contact without consent. It need not be an intention to do wrong, and the wrongdoer need not intend to cause the particular harm that occurs. Non-consensual touching is all that is required to assert a viable personal injury lawsuit. For example, a medical malpractice claim can also have a tortious battery claim if a doctor performed an unauthorized surgery.

A battery can be as direct as striking someone in the face with your fists. It can also be as indirect as setting a trap that harms a person hours or days after it is set. Unwanted sexual contact or other non-consensual touching that causes harm can also be battery. Damages awarded in battery cases vary widely, depending on the seriousness of the plaintiff's injuries and whether a defendant acted as a reasonable person (such as in self-defense or defense of others). Damages also depend on the personal injury laws of your state as they relate to intentional acts.

In the case of damages under civil law, the victim must have suffered harm in some manner. The harm could be physical, mental, or emotional. It can be as slight as a tap or an unwanted hug, but there must be harm to recover in a civil lawsuit. A jury can assess damages and may award recoveries that are nominal, compensatory, or punitive. Punitive damages are awarded in extraordinary circumstances where a defendant acted with egregious malice, such as knowingly resulting in an injured party's wrongful death.

Criminal Battery

The difference between battery as a crime and battery as a civil tort is the type of intent required. Unlike in tort law, a criminal battery requires the presence of mens rea or criminal intent to do wrong, like to cause harmful or offensive contact. Accordingly, a defendant found guilty of the crime of battery is often sued by the defendant in a civil action for the same incident.

Often accompanied by criminal assault, a criminal battery is usually prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Repeated offenses or the nature of the offense may warrant more severe treatment. For example, in some states, a second or third offense against the same person is a felony. In cases of domestic violence, many states do not permit battery charges to be dropped against the defendant, even at the request of the victim, because of the potential for repeat or escalated harm.

Most sexual crimes include elements of battery (since they are non-consensual contacts), and some states have penal codes listing the specific crime of "sexual battery."

An aggravated battery is a simple battery with another element of an aggravating factor. This is most often the use of a deadly weapon (whether the use was real or threatened) and is almost always a felony offense. Other aggravated batteries include those committed against protected persons (children, the elderly or disabled, or governmental agents); those in which the victim suffers serious injury; or those in a public transit vehicle or station, school zone, or other protected places. These are all aggravating factors that will push misdemeanor batteries to felonies.

See Assault and Battery Penalties and Sentencing for more details.

Get Legal Help With Your Questions About Battery

If someone hit and injured you, you may be able to file a claim for damages. It helps to have the guidance of an attorney before you take action. Contact a local personal injury lawyer today to pursue your battery claim.

A personal injury attorney can help you get money for your pain and suffering. They can also get you money for medical bills and even emotional distress. Remember that, like most personal injury claims, battery claims have a limited filing period known as a statute of limitations, after which you can't file your lawsuit.

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