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Battery in Special Situations

States vary in how they define battery. Generally, a battery is an offensive or harmful touching of another person without their consent. Different types of battery may occur.

The following article highlights some of the most common types of battery in civil cases. You can also find helpful resources on our accompanying pages:

Background Overview of Your Claim

In tort law, or the law that dictates consequences for harmful civil wrongs, the tort of battery concerns physical injuries. Harmful contact, namely inappropriate physical contact through an intentional act, is common in personal injury law. If you've been touched, hit, or attacked in any interaction, you'll want to sue for battery.

Battery cases are interpreted through either express statute or common law. Statutes are codified laws passed by the government. Common law refers to judge-made rulings that have shaped court decisions over the years. Therefore, some states let you sue for battery under written law, while others will allow you to bring your claim under court case precedents.

Since battery claims involve offensive contact and bodily harm, they can be tried in both civil lawsuits and criminal cases. Civil battery involves a personal injury claim between private parties. But government prosecutors may pursue separate criminal charges for simple battery or aggravated battery. Victims of assault may press criminal law charges by reporting their injuries to police officers. Even without physical contact, the threat of battery may loom. It may place someone at reasonable apprehension of imminent harm, also known as assault. That's why many criminal charges are often brought as both assault and battery.

Medical Battery

Virtually all states have recognized your right to receive information about:

  • Your medical condition
  • Treatment choices
  • The risks associated with treatment
  • Prognosis (forecast or likely course of a disease or health condition)

The information provided to you must be in plain language terms that can readily be understood. You, as the patient, should be reasonably able to make an informed decision about your health care. If you've received this information, any consent to treatment that you give your doctor will be presumed informed consent.

A doctor who fails to obtain informed consent for non-emergency treatment may be charged with a civil or criminal offense. This includes battery for the unauthorized touching of your person. Because the doctor has rendered improper medical treatment, they may be responsible not only for battery but also for medical malpractice.

Toxic Battery

Toxic torts (toxic exposure cases) typically involve claims of negligence or strict liability. However, in recent years, claims for the tort of toxic battery have succeeded in many courts. The intent of the wrongdoer need not be an intent to cause harm but rather the intent to do the act that ultimately causes the harm. Companies manufacturing chemicals known to be volatile or to ultimately result in human contact are vulnerable to such claims.

Toxic chemical manufacturers may be sued for illegal disposal of hazardous materials as well as the tort of toxic battery. For example, your hometown might be harmed by leached chemicals or fumes in the air, ground, or water. The intent of the company may not be to harm others but to dump the material in an illegal manner or location. This is a good example of gross negligence or recklessness so egregious as to constitute the requisite intent to commit battery under the law.

Cases of toxic battery began appearing in the late 1900s. In the early case of Gulden v. Crown Zellerbach Corp. (1989), the court held that exposing workers to known carcinogens and harmful agents could constitute battery. In that case, a company released harmful chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The release was over 500 times the maximum exposure allowed by law.

The tort of toxic battery also became a cause of action (legal claim) in many tobacco and breast implant cases. Such cases often involve multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants. They may become class action suits in the case of widespread exposure to harm. A class action suit allows the court to hear one case for a large group of people who suffered similar injuries from a common source. You may have received mailers or notices about these kinds of cases. If you don't have your own lawyer and the class action involves thousands of people, sometimes you can end up with a measly $10 check, even if a large settlement is reached.

Battery in Sports

Most sports injuries—common in competitive, contact sports—are accidental. However, viable causes of action have been found in cases where sports players used excessive force in their tactics. For example, someone might tackle you with excessive force while you're playing football. Studies have found that many professional players have suffered long-term brain injuries under similar circumstances.

As with all battery cases, someone must ultimately bear responsibility for your sports injuries. If the battery was a result of your own negligence or engagement in a high-risk act, you might be the only person at fault. On the other hand, another player may have broken game rules in causing your injury. Sometimes, an overseeing sports organization like the NFL might be alleged to share responsibility.

Battery in Domestic Violence

If you've been in an abusive relationship, you might not realize you're a domestic violence victim. Arguments and conflict happen in most relationships, but violence is never acceptable. Your boyfriend or girlfriend may have pushed you or hit you in the head. Your spouse or significant other may have slapped you across the face. These are serious cases of battery, irrespective of the extent of your injuries.

Of all torts and crimes involving domestic relations, the most recurring ones involve charges of battery. This is true not only in spousal relations but also in child abuse cases. Sexual offenses against other persons (including children) are both specific crimes as well as batteries. Unfortunately, spousal batteries often escalate into situations involving serious physical harm and property damage.

Some courts permit batteries to the extended personality committed in the presence of the victim. For example, a court might find that you have a valid assault or battery claim if your spouse smashed your phone against the wall. This is because the intentional destruction of personal items is common in emotionally charged marital conflicts. Moreover, in criminal battery, authorities recognize that victims may not want to press charges for fear of future harm or retaliation. This is common, especially in spousal battery. For this reason, the prosecution may proceed even when the spousal victim:

  • Doesn't want to press charges
  • Becomes an adverse witness for the state by testifying in favor of their guilty spouse

What You Can Recover in Court

If you've successfully proven to a judge or jury that you suffered a battery, the court may award you remedies. Remedies are compensatory damages intended to make you whole for the injuries you have suffered. They include but are not limited to:

  • Compensation for your medical bills
  • Payment for ongoing and future treatment
  • Time lost from work plus future lost income
  • Pain and suffering and emotional distress damages

If the person who harmed you was reckless or knew that injuries may result from their actions, you may have additional recourse. A court may allow you to seek punitive damages or exemplary damages intended to punish defendants for extreme or egregious behavior. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to and on top of compensatory damages.

If the defendant is unable to show that they did not commit the battery, they may still attempt to reduce or eliminate financial responsibility. In some situations, someone who commits battery may be justified if they use reasonable force to defend themselves or others. The defendant may, therefore, assert affirmative defenses such as self-defense or defense of others. These legal defenses attempt to justify the defendant's behavior even if the defendant is found to have committed the battery.

More Questions on Battery? An Attorney Can Help

Law offices may either represent plaintiffs (complainants) or defendants (those who are accused). If you're a defendant in a personal injury case in civil court, you will need a defense-side personal injury attorney. There are many defenses available, depending on the specific facts of your case.

Similarly, if you have been the victim of battery, consider a client relationship with a personal injury lawyer. They can help you pursue your case in court and recover your medical expenses. A disclaimer to remember is that your state will have a filing deadline. Make sure you consult an attorney as soon as possible to avoid the deadline of your state's statute of limitations.

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