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Dave Chappelle Pelted with Banana Peel; Should He Sue?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 02, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Dave Chappelle must not be as funny as he thinks he is.

During a show in Santa Fe, a man from the audience threw a banana peel at Chappelle. Some reports say that the peel hit Chappelle, while others report that the peel missed.

Even though the attack was more insult than injury, should Chappelle seek some justice and sue?

Assault or Battery

Assault and battery are torts, which mean a victim can usually sue in civil court to get damages from the offender.

Assault occurs when one person intentionally attempts or threatens to attack or injure another person. The attempt must cause the victim to reasonably fear imminent harm. For example, you neighbor Bob, in a fit of anger, throws a knife at you. While the knife missed you, you were scared to death of being impaled. Bob committed assault. The knife does not need to hit you at all. It is assault as long as you saw it coming, and you were scared.

Battery occurs when one person intentionally touches another person in a harmful or offensive manner without their consent. Unlike assault, battery requires that the victim actually be touched. For example, Nancy likes to play around. She is swinging a flaming stick in your face trying to scare you. Even though she didn't intend to actually hit you with the stick, her bad aim caused her to whack you in the arm and set your jacket on fire. This is battery. The actor's intent to actually harm or not is irrelevant. As long as she intentionally did the act that caused the touching, she committed battery.

Chappelle's Case

Reports are unclear regarding whether or not Chappelle saw the banana coming. If he didn't, there is no assault. If he didn't see it, he couldn't have been scared by it. Depending on which reports are true, the incident may have been battery. If the banana missed Chappelle, there is no battery. If the banana hit Chappelle in the leg, there definitely is battery.

Technically, he could sue. Should he? In successful battery suits, the plaintiff wins damages to compensate him for his injuries and expenses--such as medical expenses, lost wages, or pain and suffering--that resulted from the battery. Chappelle was hit with a brown banana peel. How much did it really injure him?

There is also the issue of the racial motivation for the incident. That could change the claim for injury. Or perhaps there would be a way show damage to his Chappelle's reputation in a loss of ticket sales. If these issues and damages cannot be proven, then his damages probably only equal the cost of dry cleaning his pants. So while he could sue, it probably isn't worth the time, money, and effort.

Even if Chappelle doesn't sue, this doesn't mean that the banana thrower will get off scot-free. He is charged with criminal battery and disorderly conduct. In the offender's own words, he "should have handed [Chappelle] the banana instead."

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