Assault is an intentional attempt or threat to inflict injury upon a person, coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm, which creates a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm or offensive contact in another. Assault does not require actual touching or bodily harm to the victim. Assault and battery are sometimes used interchangeably, but battery is an unjustified harmful or offensive touching of another. Battery also differs from assault in that it does not require the victim to be in apprehension of harm.
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. An assault is both a crime and a tort. Therefore, an assailant may face both criminal and civil liability. A criminal assault conviction may result in a fine, imprisonment, or both. In a civil assault case, the victim may be entitled to monetary damages from the assailant.
Civil Assault Cases
Separate from any criminal prosecution for assault, a victim may pursue civil damages for injuries caused by it. After a determination by a judge or jury that an assault was committed, the next step is to determine what 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 a small sum. Nominal damages act as an acknowledgment that a person has suffered a technical invasion of rights. They are awarded in cases where no actual injury has resulted, or where an injury occurred, but the amount has not been established. Finally, punitive damages may sometimes be awarded. Punitive damages may be awarded in particularly egregious circumstances, as a way to further punish the wrongdoer. Punitive damages go above and beyond compensatory damages.