You can sustain injuries for a variety of reasons. They could result from negligence by another individual or because someone intended to cause harm. Although assault and battery are often linked to criminal punishment, the offenses are intentional torts, meaning you are qualified to sue the perpetrator in a civil court for monetary damages. Nonetheless, you must file a civil suit before the lapse of the statute of limitations. You do not need the defendant to be charged or convicted in a criminal court before you can take legal redress. If you are a victim of assault, this blog provides you with the information you need to understand how to pursue damages in these cases.
Legal Definition of Assault
As per PEN 240, assault is an effort or threat of an attacker to touch or make contact with another person harmfully. Frequently, but not always, assault is an expression of threats in words or behavior to use force or violence on another party. Nevertheless, the offense becomes a battery when there is the actual application of power.
You can only take civil action as a plaintiff when the offense is actionable or a credible threat. You must demonstrate that the defendant violently touched you or wanted to make you reasonably believe they would make offensive contact. Additionally, it must be clear that the threats caused you to think that the harmful touch would occur and that the defendant possessed the capacity to use force.
From the above elements, you can easily conclude that expressing threats or harm using words alone is enough to satisfy the credible threat threshold. Nonetheless, this is not true. Threatening conduct or action that makes you as the plaintiff reasonably believe you are under threat of being touched offensively must accompany the words. There is no definite measure of the phrase or threats that amount to an assault. It is up to your injury attorney to use circumstances surrounding the case to make solid arguments. Threatening behavior can occur in a domestic dispute when your partner raises their knuckle and threatens to hit you. Also, when a colleague approaches you so close to your face and threatens to mess you up if you report a particular incident to the boss, it amounts to assault.
Similarly, a defendant will be liable for assault if they point a weapon at you and threaten to shoot, even when you later come to learn that the firearm was not loaded. Besides, when they show the gun alone, even without threatening utterances, assault occurs.
Also, note that the defendant does not need to follow up their threats with force application. The essential element is that a reasonable person would simply believe the defendant will act or follow through with the threats under your circumstances. The defendant must have caused reasonable fear of imminent injury.
It is worth noting that apprehension or anxiety in the mind of an ordinary or sober person could vary based on the case’s nature. For instance, when an assailant points a firearm at you while sleeping, they are not guilty of assault because you were unaware of the threat.
Lastly, the injury must be imminent or about to occur for an assailant to be liable for assault. You cannot claim compensation from a defendant when they point a gun at you and threaten to shoot you at a later date because the harm is not about to occur.
A Breakdown of Battery
The definition of battery does not change in criminal and civil law. Under PEN 242, the crime is defined as the illegal and deliberate contact or use of force on the body of another party in an offensive or harmful fashion. The battery is often preceded by assault, which explains why the words are used transitionally or together.
As mentioned earlier, the battery is an intentional tort and does not stem from negligence. The elements in a criminal battery are the same as those of a battery tort, although criminal intent is unnecessary when filing an injury claim. A defendant will be liable if you demonstrate that they planned or intended to unlawfully or non-consensually touch your body or clothing and that you were offended by the said contact. Being offended by the touch means that you suffered physical, emotional, or mental harm.
If your claim is based on torturous or offensive touching, the necessary intent is purely to make non-consensual contact. The assailant does not need to have had intended to harm you in any particular way. You need to show that the touch was offensive and non-consensual. For instance, a non-consensual congratulation part does not amount to a battery, although tickling a co-worker without permission in the workplace amounts to battery.
The damages you recover from your claim depend on the severity of the harm caused by the defendant. Further, to win the case, the harm caused does not need to be severe, but this will affect the recoverable financial damages because they vary based on the severity of the injury. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a personal injury attorney to evaluate your case and advise you on the best course of action to avoid wasting time and financial resources.
Plaintiffs in Assault Claims
When someone threatens or uses force against you without any provocation, you are qualified to claim compensation for the harm or losses incurred. Nonetheless, when contact is consensual, you cannot claim damages unless the force applied during the touching exceeds what is reasonable to a sober individual.
Third Parties and Assault Claims
In your assault claim, you can sue a third party for your injuries. The main element you should prove is that the party or individual had a lawful duty of care towards you, the victim. Nonetheless, they failed to exercise this duty, and you sustained injuries. Most third parties that face these lawsuits are employers, building owners, and corporations. A building owner will be sued for assault when a tenant or visitor is assaulted in their premises because they have a legal duty to keep the building safe. The same case applies to employers. When an employee sustains harm from an assault incident at work, they can sue the employer because of failing in their duty to keep the workplace safe.
Many of these third parties who are likely to be sued for assault in a civil court carry third-party insurance coverage to protect them during these incidents.
Nevertheless, when unfamiliar with personal injury law, you may not know the party to blame for the assault. Therefore, you should talk to an injury attorney to review the incident and determine whether at least one-third party is responsible for your harm.
Criminal Charges and Civil Lawsuits for Assault
Many victims of assault have the misconception that the only way you can obtain justice after an assault incident is through criminal charges in a criminal court. Nonetheless, this is untrue. You can seek compensable damages in a civil court from the party responsible. Additionally, you do not need to wait for the criminal court to find the defendant guilty to seek legal redress. California personal injury law allows you to file a claim against your assailant or a third party even without filing charges against the defendant.
A criminal court does not need to convict a defendant for criminal charges to be found liable in a civil court for an intentional tort. Therefore, after an assault incident, you should report to the authorities and speak to a personal injury attorney to prepare for a lawsuit.
Note that recording a statement with the local authorities is critical in assault or battery torts because of many reasons. Firstly, eyewitnesses find it easier to collaborate with the law enforcement than you, the victim. Also, in their defense, the defendant could assert that no assault took place because if it did, you could have reported it to the authorities. When you did not report the incident, even though the assault happened, the failure to record a statement could significantly dent your credibility as a plaintiff, which may negatively affect the case's outcome.
Again, the assailant will likely be arrested and charged with assault by recording a statement with the authorities. When found guilty by the court, you could use the court’s verdict in your civil suit to prove liability. The chances of obtaining maximum compensation when a defendant has been found guilty in a criminal court are higher than when no criminal charges were filed at all.
A Preponderance of Evidence in Civil Assault Suits
The main difference between civil lawsuits and criminal charges lies in the burden of proof. The prosecutor must prove that a defendant committed the offense in question for criminal cases beyond reasonable certainty. On the other hand, civil lawsuits do not require a defendant to be ruled guilty beyond a reasonable certainty or doubt. Instead, a jury establishes the likelihood that the defendant committed the assault. This concept or standard is known as the preponderance of the evidence. The advantage of the system is that it requires the jury to find the defendant 51 percent responsible for your injuries.
Other Significant Differences Between Civil and Criminal Assault Trials
Recall, assault, and the battery can result in two separate legal proceedings: civil suits and criminal charges. When prosecuting these cases, many differences are witnessed during the trial. One distinction between the two is that a criminal assault trial happens in a criminal court and is controlled by the state through the district attorney or a prosecutor. As the victim, you have little or no say in these cases, and the only way you can participate in the trial is as a witness. On the other end, the civil assault trial is controlled by you, the plaintiff, and not the state.
Also, with a criminal trial, because the state is controlling the case, you do not incur any costs because you are only a witness in the case. However, when filing a lawsuit in a civil court, you carry the burden of paying your attorneys.
Additionally, while a twelve-member jury is involved in both cases, a criminal trial requires all the jury members to agree on a guilty verdict. Nevertheless, in a civil trial, you only need nine out of the twelve jurors to find the defendant responsible for your harm.
Recall, civil suits require a preponderance of the evidence, meaning more likely than not, the defendant caused your injuries. Compared to the beyond reasonable doubt standard in criminal cases, a civil trial carries a lesser burden of proof than a criminal trial.
On the issue of damages, you can only recover economic damages in a criminal trial, but in a civil suit, you are eligible even to pain and suffering damages. Again, you can claim punitive damages in a civil trial, while in a criminal one, there are no punitive damages available.
Lastly, a conviction is not necessary for a civil trial, although you can hold third parties responsible for your harm. This is different from a criminal trial where a conviction or plea bargain is mandatory and only defendants are liable.
Statute of Limitations in Assault and Battery Lawsuits
In California, you have up to two years to file a lawsuit if you are a victim of assault. However, you should not wait for long to file charges because some of the evidence might disappear, weakening your case. Also, by filing a claim very early, the memories of the assault will be more vivid, strengthening the claim and increasing the chances of optimum compensation.
Note that you lose the right to seek legal redress from the responsible parties when this duration lapses. This is the reason you are discouraged from waiting until an assault conviction occurs in a criminal court before filing a civil suit. A criminal case can extend for years and before its conclusion. The timeline provided in the law for a claim might have expired, thus missing out on the recoverable damages.
When the victim of the assault or battery is a government agency like the police, the timeline for filing a civil lawsuit is six months from the time of the assault. Therefore, you should consult with an attorney right after the incident to not permanently be barred from recovering damages. An attorney will explain California’s Code of Civil Procedures (CCP) 335 to help you understand the timeline you have to seek legal redress.
Nonetheless, even when the timeline provided by the law lapses, a few ways are available to help you seek compensation. With the help of an attorney, you can petition the court to toll the statute, which means delaying the deadline for some time. The court will grant your request for a toll on the timeline for filing a claim if the following is true:
- The assault resulted in mental incapacitation that hindered you from filing the lawsuit on time.
- You were a minor at the time of assault and battery. In these cases, the court can toll the period of filing the claim and will only begin to run once you turn 18.
- The assault and battery caused physical incapacitation
- You had delayed symptoms, and the injuries from the assault or battery did not manifest until late. Here, the court will allow the statute of limitation to toll until the day you discovered or ought to have known about the injury.
Punitive Damages in Assault Lawsuits
Punitive damages seek to punish your assailant and discourage others from engaging in the same behavior. Nonetheless, a jury will award these damages only if you can demonstrate that they acted maliciously or fraudulently. This means they either injured you deliberately or consciously disregarded your rights.
It is worth noting that these cases require a higher burden of proof than the preponderance of the evidence. This means that the evidence you present through your injury attorney must be clear and convincing for the jury to find high-level chances that the respondent acted in a fashion that they should be blamed for the assault.
For instance, it will be difficult for you as a plaintiff to succeed in seeking punitive damages in an assault tort in which the defendant hit you immediately after you directed a racial smear to them during an argument. The damages will not be awarded because the defendant did not violate any of your rights.
Nonetheless, when the defendant had waited at your home after the altercation and hit you with a weapon, the outcome of your civil suit would be different. The defendant had time to calm down after the slur but chose not. Instead, they intentionally hit you, disregarding your rights, which is why the jury will award damages in the situation.
Can Family Seek Compensation for Assault on My Behalf?
Sometimes, your family can seek damages on your behalf. However, for this to happen, the family must be witnesses of negligent infliction of emotional distress. Also, the family can seek benefits on your behalf in the event of wrongful death or when the assault results in loss of consortia like companionship, moral support, or intimacy.
Find a San Diego Injury Attorney Near Me
Assault ranges from threats of violence to cause fear of harm, non-consensual touch, and acts of violence. Despite the circumstances, you have a right to pursue compensation for the physical, emotional, or mental damage caused by assault. At the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm, we are ready to assist you in seeking compensation. Reach out to our attorneys at 619-478-4059 today for a case review.