Elements of a Battery
Battery is an intentional tort, or a civil wrong arising from an intentional act. Battery is a general intent, rather than a specific intent, offense. This means the actor doesn't need to intend the specific harm resulting from unwanted contact. It's enough that the actor only intends to commit an act of unwanted contact. This also means gross negligence or even recklessness may provide the required intent to find a battery.
The doctrine of transferred intent is also applicable. Suppose one person intends to strike another, who moves out of the way to avoid being struck. The harmful contact is instead made with a third person. Here, both an assault (against the second person) and a battery (against the third person) have occurred, in both criminal and civil law.
This is important in the distinction between a battery and an assault.
A battery case involves actual physical contact. An assault is an incomplete battery. A person commits an assault if they intentionally place a person in reasonable apprehension of an impending battery. If a person intended only an assault and harmful or offensive contact actually occurs, the person has committed a battery as well as an assault.
This is also important in distinguishing a defendant's conduct that is accidental. If a person violently, but accidentally, slams into a fellow passenger on a moving public bus, there is no liability. But even the slightest intentional touching of another can create civil liability in a personal injury case. If the touching causes bodily harm or is offensive to a reasonable person, it would be the subject of an injury claim. For example, non-consensual touching of a person's thigh would be offensive conduct amounting to battery.
What if there is only an intended assault? For example, what if a person gestures toward another in a menacing manner, and the person trips and actually crashes into the other? Here, both an assault and battery have occurred.
Non-consensual contact may be made with either a person or that person's extended personality. This means that if one person leans forward and yanks the jewelry necklace off another, a battery has occurred. This is true even though the first person never actually touched the neck of the second person. If this act was preceded with an intent to cause the other to apprehend an impending violent yank of the necklace, both an assault and a battery have occurred.
What if the wrongdoer only intended an assault but did not actually intend to complete the violent yank? If their hand made contact with, and actually yanked off the necklace, both an assault and a battery have occurred. In other words, if in the process of physically gesturing to yank the necklace off violently, contact is actually made and the necklace is pulled from the other's neck, a battery has occurred.
The tort rule of "extended personality" applies to both civil and criminal battery. Keep in mind that in criminal cases, assault and battery (including aggravated battery and assault) are brought as criminal charges rather than civil torts.
If a person threatens to spit into another's cup of coffee, and then proceeds to do so, both a criminal and civil battery have occurred. Spitting is clearly offensive and possibly harmful enough to lead to serious injury. In another case involving the issue of extended contact, a Texas hotel manager was found guilty of battery when he snatched away a patron's dinner plate in a "loud and offensive manner," even though the contact did not result in any physical harm to the diner.
A plaintiff or complainant in a case for battery does not have to prove an actual physical injury. Rather, the plaintiff must prove unlawful and unpermitted contact with their person or property in a harmful or offensive manner. This, in and of itself, is deemed injurious. As in the case of the Texas hotel manager above, the harm may be offensive rather than physical, but equally worthy of compensation under the law.
Harm can include:
- Physical harm, such as in cases of domestic violence or even wrongful death
- Emotional distress
- Mental distress
Once there is palpable harm, all elements of battery are present, and an aggrieved person may file charges.
Of course, in criminal law, the state will file charges for battery, and the victim becomes a witness for the prosecution. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of battery. In criminal court, the focus is on the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Generally, no damages are available to the victim. However, harm may be so severe that they may qualify for assistance through a "victims' compensation fund."
Conversely, the victim of a battery may file a civil lawsuit stemming from the same incident, in which the defendant is charged with the tort of battery. In such a case, damages are typically compensatory (a monetary award), along with special relief such as injunctive or punitive. Injunctive relief involves a court order requiring a defendant to refrain from certain behavior. Punitive damages are damages that go beyond regular compensation in order to punish the defendant for egregious or reckless conduct.
In the case of the necklace (above), the plaintiff may ask for monetary damages to cover:
- Property (the broken necklace)
- Physical harm to their neck (economic damages for medical bills, if any, and non-economic damages for pain and suffering, if any)
- Emotional harm caused by the incident (the apprehension of a battery; the embarrassment when it actually occurred)
In the case of transferred intent involving an assault and battery, there will likely be two plaintiffs:
- The person who was the intended victim of the battery (who sues for assault); and
- The person who was actually physically harmed (who sues for battery)
In medical malpractice cases involving unauthorized treatments or lack of informed consent, the patient may sue for all costs and treatments. They may also sue for procedures associated with the battery. This is true in many cases, even where the patient ultimately benefited from the unauthorized treatment. However, this may be argued as a mitigating factor by the defense.
Discuss Your Battery Claim With an Experienced Attorney
If you're preparing to file a battery claim but don't know where to start, a personal injury attorney can help. An attorney will be able to connect the legal dots to make a convincing case that your claim satisfies the elements of a battery. Having an attorney will be especially helpful in cases where the other side claims self-defense or defense of others. The right lawyer will be able to pursue your claim even in the face of a defendant's legal excuses.
You can start the process right now by getting in touch with a personal injury lawyer. If you're planning to file a lawsuit, keep in mind there is a time limit known as the statute of limitations, after which you will be barred from filing. Your lawyer will be able to advise you about your state's time limits.
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Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.