In the legal world, assault and its counterpart “battery,” often referred to as “assault and battery” or simply assault, are “intentional torts.” Intentional torts are typically illegal actions taken by another that can only result from an intentional act of the defendant. If the defendant intended to stick out his leg and trip you, this is an intentional tort, but if he did not, and you are injured by his actions regardless, you can recover under the theory of negligence. For example, if someone trips and accidentally drops a bag of marbles on the sidewalk, and you slip on those marbles and injure yourself as a result, this is negligence because the person who dropped the bag did not intend to cause you harm. However, if you get into a fight outside of a restaurant and as a result, another patron punches you and breaks your nose, this behavior was intentional, and it amounts to both assault and battery.
Assault v. Battery in Florida
Although often referred to together, assault and battery are actually two distinct offenses in Florida. Under Florida law, “assault” is defined by the following elements:
- An intentional and unlawful threat;
- By word or act;
- To do violence to the person of another;
- Coupled with the apparent ability to do so, and
- Doing that act would create a well-founded fear in such other person that the violence is imminent.
In other words, you are assaulted when the fear is instilled in you, not when the other person makes physical contact with your body. For example, if at a restaurant you get into an argument with a healthy, 6-foot man and you see him pull back his fist to punch you, even if the waiter steps in and grabs his fist before he can do so, the patron has still committed an assault against you. He has not, however, committed “battery,” which is defined by the following elements:
- Actually and intentionally;
- Touches or strikes another person;
- Against the will of the other; OR
- Intentionally causes bodily harm to another person.
Accordingly, if you are unexpectedly slapped in the back of the head by an ex-girlfriend while at the movies, because you did not see it coming this is battery but not assault. Likewise, if you are punched in the nose at a restaurant, this is both assault and battery.
Penalties for Assault and Battery in Florida
Because assault and battery are intentional torts, like most intentional torts, they carry criminal consequences. Simple assault is a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida, but “aggravated assault,” assault committed with a deadly weapon or with the intent to commit a felony, is a third-degree felony itself. Simple battery is a first-degree misdemeanor but it turns into a third-degree felony if the person had a prior conviction of battery. Battery can also be a third-degree felony if the battery causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement, or if it is a domestic battery by strangulation, meaning that the defendant strangled a member of his household, family, or someone he was in a relationship with.
Litigating Assault and Battery in Florida
For those who recall the case of O.J. Simpson, you may remember that although O.J. was not convicted of his criminal charges, i.e., murder, he was convicted in a separate civil action for the civil equivalent of murder, wrongful death. This occurred because the legal standards governing civil and criminal actions are vastly different. If you are being prosecuted in a criminal action, the prosecutor must prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In a civil action, however, the plaintiff need only prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the defendant committed the offense. In other words, in a civil action, you only need prove that is more likely than not that the defendant committed the offense, essentially a 51 percent burden, which is much less than a criminal case. Accordingly, even if you wanted to press criminal charges and the prosecutor declined to prosecute the action, the defendant was found not guilty for lack of evidence, or the defendant was found not guilty due to a technical error, this will not prevent you from bringing and winning an action for personal injuries as the result of a criminal assault and battery.
Battery can be committed with nearly anything attached to oneself, for example, a car, a baseball bat, or even a rabid dog. As such, there is no limit to the personal injuries one can suffer as the result of a criminal battery. It is the intent of the other party that differentiates battery from pure negligence. Let's take a case of road-rage as an example. Typically, if you rear-end another driver you did not do so intentionally; it is more likely a result of you looking down at your phone for a split second. However, if someone is angered at a car that cut him off and, as a result, intentionally rear-ends that car causing injuries to its occupants, this is likely a battery. As you can see, the defendant who commits the battery does not have to intend the harm, but he or she does have to intend to actually make contact with your body in some way, even if it is with a weapon such as a baseball bat or motor vehicle.
Contact a Clearwater Assault and Battery Attorney Today
If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a criminal assault and/or battery, whether or not you chose to press charges, you still have the right to seek compensation for your personal injuries in Florida courts. The Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can help explain to you the intricacies of Florida assault and battery law and how a potential criminal case can affect your civil case going forward. They are here to fight for your right to compensation in the face of the intentional suffering inflicted upon you. Call them today in their Clearwater office at (727) 451-6900 or contact them online for a free, no-risk consultation about your injuries.
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