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Assault and Battery

Court Basics

Learn about the civil legal concepts of “assault” and “battery.”

Assault and battery have similar meanings in civil and criminal courts. This article offers a basic explanation of the concepts and explains how they apply in Texas civil court.

What is “assault”?

A civil assault occurs when one person (the defendant) intentionally makes another person (the plaintiff) reasonably fear imminent physical contact. 

A civil assault does not necessarily involve one person touching the other. The damage results from the scared or threatened person’s reaction to that threatened or attempted physical contact.  

For example, Cain points a toy gun at Abel. Abel trips and hurts his ankle while trying to run away, because he thinks the gun is real. Cain has committed a civil assault against Abel. Even though Cain did not ever physically touch Abel, his actions caused Abel’s injuries. 

What are the elements of assault?

The tort of assault has three elements: intent, fear of harm, and causation. To win a civil assault lawsuit, you must prove all three elements. 

  1. Intent: The person who caused the harm must have intended to scare or threaten the person to cause them serious fear for their safety. Pointing a gun at someone’s head would be sure to cause the victim to fear for their safety or be aware of the dangerous situation.   

  2. Fear of harm: The victim must have reasonably feared or been aware of the likelihood of physical contact. If an attacker is swinging their fist at someone, then a reasonable person would duck or back away to avoid getting hit.   

  3. Causation: The attacker’s actions must have caused the victim’s injury. The attacker might not have touched the victim. But, the victim would not have been injured without the attacker's actions. Even if the attacker did not actually touch the victim, the victim would not have been injured but for the attacker’s actions. 

In the example above, Abel would not have hurt his ankle while running away from Cain if Cain had never pointed the gun at Abel.  

What damages can a court award in an assault suit?

If you win a civil assault case, you can receive different types of damages: compensatory, punitive, and nominal. "Damages" refers to money that a defendant pays a plaintiff in a civil case if the plaintiff wins.

  1. Compensatory damages: Money that one person must pay another to cover the cost of a wrong or injury, such as compensation for lost wages.
  2. Punitive damages: Damages meant to punish the defendant and deter future misconduct.
  3. Nominal damages: A very small amount of money awarded when a court finds in favor of one party but concludes that no real harm was done.
     

What are the defenses to civil assault suit? 

There are several defenses a defendant may raise to avoid liability for assault, including self-defense or defense of others, consent, and defense of property.

  • Self-defense: Asserting that the act was necessary to protect oneself from imminent harm.
  • Defense of others: Justifying the act as necessary to prevent harm to another individual.
  • Consent: Showing that the plaintiff consented to the risk of harm.
  • Defense of property: Arguing that the actions were needed to protect one's property.

What is "battery"?

"Battery" in civil court is unwanted physical contact, physical violence, or physical control of a person. For the contact to qualify as "battery," it must be harmful or offensive to the plaintiff. But the wrongdoer does not have to have intended to offend or injure the plaintiff. Rather, they just have to have made contact with them.

What must be proven for battery?

To prove battery, you must prove that

  1. The defendant made physical contact with you,
  2. The defendant intended to make contact, and
  3. The contact was harmful or offensive to you.

What damages can be awarded in a battery suit? 

If you win a battery case, you can receive the same types of damages as assault.

What is the statute of limitations for an assault or battery suit?

The statute of limitations for filing either a battery or assault lawsuit in Texas is two years. 

This means that if you wait longer than two years after someone hit you, then you will no longer have a valid claim against them and will not be able to receive any damages for the injury they caused. 

Should I hire a lawyer to sue for assault or battery?

Yes. Talk to a lawyer about your options. Civil litigation can be complicated. Hiring an attorney can help you recover additional damages and fees that you may be entitled to, including attorneys fees. 

Use TexasLawHelp's directory to find legal help.   

What is a tort?

A tort is a private or civil wrong that results in harm to another through failure to perform some duty required by law or custom. The victim of a tort may have the right to sue for damages to compensate for the harm suffered. Victims of crimes may also sue in tort (in a civil case) for the wrongs done to them.

Why is civil assault and battery different from criminal assault and battery?

Civil and criminal assault and battery are very similar under Texas law. But in civil court, you can get damages or an injunction or both. You might be able to settle the case, and in some situations, the case might move faster than it would in criminal court. Talk to a lawyer to help you weigh your options.

One case you can read to learn more about how similar civil and criminal assault and battery are in Texas is Donohue v. Dominguez.
 

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