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Elements of Assault

An "assault" occurs when someone threatens bodily harm to another in a convincing way. Assault is often followed by battery, which is an unlawful physical contact. Battery cases often involve an act of violence but also involve unwelcome sexual contact.

Not all threats are considered civil assault. To rise to the level of an actionable offense (in which the plaintiff may file suit), several main elements must be present:

  1. The act was intended to cause apprehension of harmful or offensive contact.
  2. The act indeed caused reasonable apprehension in the victim that harmful or offensive contact would occur.
  3. There was an imminent physical gesture signifying a threat.

Therefore, a person who intends to cause apprehension of imminent harm and succeeds in doing so has committed the tort of assault. When determining whether you have a viable cause of action for assault, it's important to understand the elements of assault fully.

Assault Is More Than Just Words

Words, without an act, cannot constitute an assault. For example, no assault has occurred where a person waves his arms at another and shouts, "I'm going to shoot you!" where no gun is visible or apparent. If threatening words include action indicating the perpetrator has the ability to carry out a threat, an assault has occurred.

It is an assault where a person threatens to shoot another while pointing a gun, even where the victim later learns that the gun was not loaded or even real. Moreover, pointing a gun without an accompanying verbal threat may still be an assault, assuming the victim saw the gun. Physical injury need not occur against the victim of an assault. For example, it may be enough that the victim in a civil lawsuit suffered emotional distress requiring medical treatment.

Intent To Cause Apprehension

Just as in battery cases, assaults involve intentional acts. Both assault and battery claims are intentional torts, meaning they are intentional civil wrongs. This means there has been a deliberate, unjustified interference with the personal right or liberty of another in a way that causes harm.

In the tort of assault, intent is shown if a reasonable person is substantially certain that certain consequences will result. Intent is established whether or not he or she actually intends those consequences to result. Pointing a gun at someone's head is substantially certain to result in apprehension for the victim.

Assault may also be brought as a criminal charge. Keep in mind civil cases of assault involve private parties in civil court. But criminal cases are brought by government attorneys specializing in criminal prosecution on behalf of the state. In criminal law, intent means acting with a criminal or wrongful purpose. Criminal assault laws often speak of acting "purposely," "knowingly," "recklessly," or "negligently." Acting negligently means grossly deviating from the standards of normal conduct.

Apprehension of Imminent Harm

The victim must have a reasonable apprehension of imminent injury or offensive contact. This element is established if the act would produce apprehension in the mind of a reasonable person. Apprehension is not the same as fear. Apprehension means awareness that an injury or offensive contact is imminent.

Whether an act would create apprehension in the mind of a reasonable person varies depending upon the circumstances. For example, it may take less to create apprehension in the mind of a child than an adult. Moreover, if a victim is unaware of the threat of harm, no assault has occurred. For example, an assailant who points a gun at a sleeping person most likely has not committed an assault. Finally, the threat must be imminent, meaning impending or about to occur. Threatening to kill someone at a later date would not constitute an assault.

Learn More About Your Assault Case From an Experienced Attorney

If you have or are considering filing your claim for assault, it may be confusing knowing where to begin. Just like car accidents, personal injury cases involving assault may involve medical bills. Injuries and medical expenses are difficult to evaluate. A law office has the resources to provide legal advice on your personal injury claim.

An experienced personal injury lawyer can also analyze the elements of assault in your personal injury lawsuit. They can help you file your claim before the expiration of your state's statute of limitations, which is a law that creates time limits that bar recovery after a certain time. Form a client relationship with a personal injury attorney today—they're just a phone number away.

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