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Battery

From lawbrain.com

At common law, an intentional unpermitted act causing harmful or offensive contact with the "person" of another.

Battery is concerned with the right to have one's body left alone by others.

Battery is both a tort and a crime. Its essential element, harmful or offensive contact, is the same in both areas of the law. The main distinction between the two categories lies in the penalty imposed. A defendant sued for a tort is civilly liable to the plaintiff for damages. The punishment for criminal battery is a fine, imprisonment, or both. Usually battery is prosecuted as a crime only in cases involving serious harm to the victim.

Contents

Elements

The following elements must be proven to establish a case for battery: (1) an act by a defendant; (2) an intent to cause harmful or offensive contact on the part of the defendant; and (3) harmful or offensive contact to the plaintiff.

The Act The act must result in one of two forms of contact. Causing any physical harm or injury to the victim—such as a cut, a burn, or a bullet wound—could constitute battery, but actual injury is not required. Even though there is no apparent bruise following harmful contact, the defendant can still be guilty of battery; occurrence of a physical illness subsequent to the contact may also be actionable. The second type of contact that may constitute battery causes no actual physical harm but is, instead, offensive or insulting to the victim. Examples include spitting in someone's face or offensively touching someone against his or her will.

Touching the person of someone is defined as including not only contacts with the body, but also with anything closely connected with the body, such as clothing or an item carried in the person's hand. For example, a battery may be committed by intentionally knocking a hat off someone's head or knocking a glass out of some-one's hand.

Intent Although the contact must be intended, there is no requirement that the defendant intend to harm or injure the victim. In tort law, the intent must be either specific intent—the contact was specifically intended—or general intent—the defendant was substantially certain that the act would cause the contact. The intent element is satisfied in criminal law when the act is done with an intent to injure or with criminal negligence—failure to use care to avoid criminal consequences. The intent for criminal law is also present when the defendant's conduct is unlawful even though it does not amount to criminal negligence.

Intent is not negated if the aim of the contact was a joke. As with all torts, however, consent is a defense. Under certain circumstances consent to a battery is assumed. A person who walks in a crowded area impliedly consents to a degree of contact that is inevitable and reasonable. Consent may also be assumed if the parties had a prior relationship unless the victim gave the defendant a previous warning.

There is no requirement that the plaintiff be aware of a battery at the time it is committed. The gist of the action is the lack of consent to contact. It is no defense that the victim was sleeping or unconscious at the time.

Harmful or Offensive Conduct It is not necessary for the defendant's wrongful act to result in direct contact with the victim. It is sufficient if the act sets in motion a force that results in the contact. A defendant who whipped a horse on which a plaintiff was riding, causing the plaintiff to fall and be injured, was found guilty of battery. Provided all other elements of the offense are present, the offense may also be committed by causing the victim to harm himself. A defendant who fails to act when he or she has a duty to do so is guilty—as where a nurse fails to warn a blind patient that he is headed toward an open window, causing him to fall and injure himself.

Aggravated Battery

When a battery is committed with intent to do serious harm or murder, or when it is done with a dangerous weapon, it is described as aggravated. A weapon is considered dangerous whenever the purpose for using it is to cause death or serious harm. State statutes define aggravated battery in various ways—such as assault with intent to kill. Under such statutes, assault means both battery and assault. It is punishable as a felony in all states.

Punishment

In a civil action for tortious battery, the penalty is damages. A jury determines the amount to be awarded, which in most cases is based on the harm done to the plaintiff. Even though a plaintiff suffers no actual injury, nominal damages (a small sum) may still be awarded on the theory that there has been an invasion of a right. Also, a court may award punitive damages aimed at punishing the defendant for the wrongful act.

Criminal battery is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both. If it is considered aggravated the penalties are greater.

Related Resources on FindLaw

  • Battery Definition from FindLaw.com's Legal Dictionary

Further Readings

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