When someone is injured during an altercation, there are times when the prosecution/district attorney does not bring criminal charges against the defendant. Usually, this is a result of a lack of evidence, lack of credible witnesses, the degree of fault to each party, and many other factors that could weigh into not filing charges against a party. However, just because you are harmed in an altercation and the district attorney fails to file charges does not mean that you cannot still seek recovery.
Filing a Lawsuit for Assault and Battery
If criminal charges are not filed when you are injured in an assault and battery case, you can still file charges known as “Civil Assault and Battery” in the Civil Court. For purposes of this article, California legal principles will be used. However, the majority of states have similar civil statutes (or use the criminal definitions) in place that allow citizens to make recoveries based on these claims. Typically, civil action is sought to ensure that the wrongdoer(s) is/are held accountable for the pain and damage they inflict their victims.
Although the terms assault and battery are often used together, they are not the same thing and can be charged separately. Typically, the two charges often do go hand in hand, but can be found provable in one and not the other. One can be guilty of an assault, but not a battery.
Proving a Civil Assault Claim
In proving a civil assault, there are certain factual elements that a client must show. The plaintiff typically has two routes to prove the basic elements of assault.
- The Defendant acted, intending to cause harmful or offensive contact, and
- That the Plaintiff reasonable believed that he or she was about to be touched in a harmful or offensive manner.
Another way to show the beginning elements of assault is to prove that
- the defendant threatened to touch the Plaintiff in a harmful or offensive manner and
- that it reasonably appeared to the Plaintiff that the Defendant would carry out the assault.
In defining the touching or contact elements for both examples, the court would need to believe that such actions would be offensive to a reasonable person’s dignity. The term “reasonably” is a legal definition that often stretches to people of normal senses, like the “typical person in society.”
In addition to the above elements being proven(either one way or the other), both ways require that:
- the Plaintiff did not consent to the Defendant’s conduct,
- that the Plaintiff was harmed, and
- that the Defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the Plaintiff’s harm.
The fifth element is often where damage awards can be reduced if it is found the Plaintiff played some role in causing the assault, or is found not to be an innocent party but rather a provoking party in the assault.
Proving Assault and Battery Claims
In proving a civil battery claim, there are typically several elements to be proved in order to show battery. The first element to be shown is that the defendant touched the Plaintiff or caused the Plaintiff to be touched, with the intent to harm or offend the Plaintiff. The second element to show is that the Plaintiff did not consent(agree) to the touching. Third, the Plaintiff must show that he/she was harmed or offended by the Defendant’s conduct conduct. And finally, the Plaintiff must show that a reasonable person in the Plaintiff’s situation would have been offended by the touching.
Defenses to Assault and Battery Claims
The typical defenses to such claims are designed to show either that
- the Defendant had nothing to do with the harm, and therefore should not be punished financially, or
- that Plaintiff’s actions helped cause the harm, thus requiring the Plaintiff to share in the burden of costs.
The usual routes to prove this are for the defendant to show:
- his actions were not intended to cause harm,
- that he had the consent of the Plaintiff to do the acts he did, or
- that the Plaintiff was partially or fully responsible for the harm done by Defendant.
Proving one of these defenses minimize the fault on Defendant, and thus allows for less of a recovery for Plaintiff, if any at all.
Assault Lawyers: Can They Help?
While civil assault and battery claims seem straightforward, there is much complexity to proving these relatively simple elements. Defendants will often use mitigating (lessening) circumstances to reduce their responsibility. By having an Assault lawsuit lawyer on your case, you will ensure that you conduct the proper filings, that you plead the elements with sufficient necessity, and that you seek the maximum recovery you can get. It is important that you speak with a lawyer to understand your rights and ensure you can litigate your case to the fullest potential.