In many of the states in the United States, an assault/battery is committed when an individual a) tries to or does physically strike another, or b) acts in a threatening manner to put another in fear of immediate harm.
Many states declare that a more serious or “aggravated” assault/battery occurs when one 1) tries to or does cause severe injury to another, or 2) causes injury through use of a deadly weapon. Historically, laws treated the threat of physical injury as “assault”, and the completed act of physical contact or offensive touching as “battery,” but many states no longer differentiate between the two.
Assault developed in common law, meaning it developed through usage, custom, and judicial decisions rather than from legislative enactment. Modern-day assault statutes closely reflect the ancient common-law definition. Assault is both a crime and a tort. Therefore, it is possible that an assailant may face both criminal and civil liability. A criminal assault conviction may result in a fine and/or imprisonment. In a civil assault case, the victim may be entitled to monetary damages from the assailant.
Assault is an intentional attempt or threat to inflict injury upon another individual and is often coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause harm. This creates a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm or offensive contact in another. Assault does not require actual touching or bodily harm. Assault and battery are often used interchangeably, but battery is defined as an unjustified harmful or offensive touching of another.
Civil Assault Cases
Separate from any sort of criminal prosecution, a victim of assault may pursue civil damages for injuries caused by the action. After a determination by a judge or jury that it was assault, the next step is to determine what type or amount of compensation is appropriate.
Three types of damages may be awarded:
Compensatory damages, such as medical expenses, are meant to compensate for the injury sustained. Nominal damages are generally a small sum.
Nominal damages act as an acknowledgment that an individual has suffered a personal invasion of their rights. The individual is awarded in cases where no actual injury has resulted, or where an injury occurred, but the amount has not been established.
Punitive damages may sometimes be awarded. Punitive damages may be awarded in particularly egregious and cruel circumstances, as a way to further punish the individual who committed the crime. Punitive damages go above and beyond compensatory or nominal damages.