Introduction In the context of criminal law, “assault and battery” are typically components of a single offense. In tort law, “assault” and “battery” are separate, with an assault being an act which creates fear of an imminent battery, and the battery being an unlawful touching. Assault and battery are intentional torts, meaning that the defendant actually intends to put the plaintiff in fear of being battered, or intends to wrongfully touch the plaintiff.
The wrongful touching need not inflict physical injury, and may be indirect (such as contact through a thrown stone, or spitting). This article describes the law of assault and battery as it is commonly applied, although the law may vary in any specific jurisdiction. Assault An assault involves: 1. An intentional, unlawful threat or “offer” to cause bodily injury to another by force; 2. Under circumstances which create in the other person a well-founded fear of imminent peril; 3. Where there exists the apparent present ability to carry out the act if not prevented.
Note that an assault can be completed even if there is no actual contact with the plaintiff, and even if the defendant had no actual ability to carry out the apparent threat. For example, a defendant who points a realistic toy gun at the plaintiff may be liable for assault, even though the defendant was fifty feet away from the plaintiff and had no actual ability to inflict harm from that distance. Battery A battery is the willful or intentional touching of a person against that person’s will by another person, or by an object or substance put in motion by that other person.
Please note that an offensive touching can constitute a battery even if it does not cause injury, and could not reasonably be expected to cause injury. A defendant who emphatically pokes the plaintiff in the chest with his index finger to emphasize a point may be culpable for battery (although the damages award that results may well be nominal). A defendant who spits on a plaintiff, even though there is little chance that the spitting will cause any injury other than to the plaintiff’s dignity, has committed a battery.
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