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Battery in Special Situations

Medical Battery
Virtually all states have recognized, either by express statute or common law, the right to receive information about one's medical condition, the treatment choices, risks associated with the treatments, and prognosis. The information must be in plain language terms that can readily be understood and in sufficient amounts such that a patient is able to make an "informed" decision about his or her health care. If the patient has received this information, any consent to treatment that is given will be presumed to be an "informed consent." A doctor who fails to obtain informed consent for non-emergency treatment may be charged with a civil and/or criminal offense, including a battery, for the unauthorized touching of the plaintiff's person.

Toxic Battery
Toxic torts (toxic exposure cases) typically involve claims of negligence or strict liability. However, in recent years, cognizable claims for the tort of toxic battery have succeeded in many courts. Again, the intent necessary to constitute a tortious battery need not be an intent to cause harm, but rather, the intent to do the act which ultimately causes the harm. Companies that manufacture chemicals that are known to be volatile or known to ultimately result in human contact are vulnerable to such claims. They may be sued for illegal disposal of toxic/hazardous materials as well as the tort of toxic battery if persons are harmed by leached chemicals or fumes in the air, ground, or water. The intent was not to harm others, but to dump the material in an illegal manner or location. This is a good example of gross negligence or recklessness so egregious as to constitute the requisite intent to commit battery under law.

Cases of toxic batteries began appearing in the late 1900s. In the early case of Gulden v. Crown Zellerbach Corp. (9th Circuit, 1989), the court held that exposing workers to PCBs (known carcinogens and harmful agents) at 500 times the maximum exposure allowed under EPA standards could constitute a battery. The tort of toxic battery also became an element in many of the tobacco and breast implant cases. Obviously, such cases often involve multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants, and may become class action suits in the case of widespread exposure to harm.

Most sports injuries, which are common in competitive, contact sports, are accidental. However, viable causes of action have been found in cases where sports players used excessive force in their tactics, to the detriment or harm of other players. Of course, the infamous fights among hockey players have resulted in numerous multi-party claims for battery.

Domestic Violence
Of all torts and crimes involving domestic relations, the most recurring ones involve charges of battery. This is true not only in spousal relations, but also in child abuse cases. Sexual offenses against other persons (including children) are both specific crimes as well as batteries. Unfortunately, spousal batteries often escalate into situations involving serious physical harm and property damage. Some courts permit batteries to the "extended personality," committed in the presence of the victim, because intentional destruction of items personal to a spouse are not uncommon in situations involving highly emotionally-charged marital discord. Moreover, in criminal battery, authorities recognize that victims may not want to press charges for fear of future harm or retaliation, especially in spousal battery. For this reason, prosecution may proceed even where the spousal victim is compelled to testify, or becomes an adverse witness for the state.

Next Steps
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