Catastrophic Injury

Assault & Battery Lawyer Orange County

You have probably heard of the phrase “assault and battery” from watching television shows or reading the news. California criminal and civil courts recognize two separate offenses of “assault” and “battery”, although they often occur together. Put simply, a defendant who commits an “assault” makes the plaintiff fear imminent harm or unwanted contact, such as lunging at someone and cocking a fist back for a punch. A defendant who commits a “battery” does something to harm the plaintiff, such as actually punching him.

While a person can be charged with the crimes of assault and battery under the California Penal Code, a person may also be liable in civil court for these two wrongs, which are called torts. Assault and battery are “intentional” torts, which means a defendant is liable if there is evidence showing the defendant intended to cause harm and actually caused that harm.

At Dennis Law Group, we understand firsthand that all serious injuries can have a devastating physical, emotional and financial cost. As aggressive trial lawyers, we won’t back down when the insurance companies try to get you to settle for less than you deserve. We will fight for your legal rights and seek the maximum financial compensation allowed by law.

Assault: Defendant Intends to Harm and Plaintiff Believes He Will Be Harmed

There is not one specific law in California that defines the tort of assault. Instead, case law provides the elements a plaintiff needs to establish an assault claim in a court of law. A defendant is liable for assault in civil court if:

  • He acts intending to cause a harmful or offensive contact with the plaintiff or a third person, or the plaintiff apprehends (understands) she will be harmed imminently; and
  • The plaintiff apprehends this imminent harm; and
  • The plaintiff is harmed by the apprehension of harm

A plaintiff who works as a salesperson in a jewelry store could bring a successful assault claim against a defendant, a customer who slapped the salesperson. For example, if a customer reaches across display cases with a raised hand to slap the salesperson, and the salesperson testifies that she saw the customer and understood she would be slapped immediately, the customer could be liable for assault. However, if a customer reaches across display cases with a raised hand to slap the salesperson, and says, “I’ll get you later,” or if the salesperson has her back turned and does not see the customer with his raised hand, the customer is unlikely to be liable for assault.

While the plaintiff must be aware of the imminent harm, she does not need to feel afraid to bring an assault claim. In this example, the defendant cannot avoid liability for an assault claim by arguing the salesperson could not have felt afraid of his raised hand because she had taken self-defense courses. The defendant could still be liable for assault even though the plaintiff was not afraid.

Battery: Defendant Takes Intentional Action to Harm

In California, a defendant is liable for a battery in civil court if:

  • He intentionally subjects the plaintiff to a harmful or offensive touching, and
  • The touching actually causes the plaintiff to suffer injury.

A defendant who goes ahead and slaps the plaintiff will likely be liable for civil battery. However, a defendant need not physically touch the plaintiff to be liable. If the customer at the jewelry store saw a big box perched on the store counter, waited until the salesperson bent down to pick something up and pushed the box on the salesperson’s head and injured her, the defendant would be liable for civil battery because he pushed the box that touched the plaintiff’s head and caused an injury. If the customer intended to push the box to hurt the salesperson, but the salesperson moved and the box crashed to the floor, injuring no one, the customer would still be liable for battery because he intended to hurt the salesperson.

Defendant’s Potential Defenses to Assault and Battery

A defendant sued for assault and/or battery typically raises defenses to show he should not be liable. One common defense is self-defense. A defendant may argue he acted in self-defense when he committed an assault or a battery. For example, if the salesperson initially threatened the customer and said she would stab the customer, the customer could claim he was acting in self-defense when he raised his hand to slap the salesperson, or pushed a box in her path to block her from harming him.

The amount of force a defendant uses to justify his self-defense is the amount that appears necessary to a reasonable person. A court typically looks at the (1) amount of force used; (2) how the force was used; (3) the way the force was applied, among other factors. If the force is “excessive,” the defense will fail.

Defendant’s Assistants May Be Liable for Assault and Battery as Well

People who “aid and abet” the defendant could be part of a plaintiff’s lawsuit as well. Whether a person who assisted the defendant would be liable depends on the circumstances. For example, if a friend of the defendant researched the schedules of various salespersons, scouted out the daily activity in the jewelry store, selected the salesperson the defendant would slap, drove the defendant to the jewelry store and waited for him to commit his battery and leave, the friend could also be named in a civil lawsuit for aiding and abetting the defendant to commit a battery. A friend who merely drove the defendant to the jewelry store would not necessarily be liable for aiding and abetting a civil battery, however.

Damages for Assault and Battery

If you suffer injuries resulting from an assault and battery, you may be able to recover financial compensation. Indeed, in a California civil assault and battery case, the victim is entitled to reasonable compensation for all related injuries and damages. This includes payment for all past and future medical bills, loss of earnings, and out-of-pocket expenses.

Punitive damages are also available to assault and battery victims when the intentional, willful, wanton or reckless conduct of the defendant causes the injuries. Punitive damages are designed to punish the responsible party.

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