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Understanding the Differences between Battery and Assault

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Assault and battery are often confused with each other, and it’s easy to think that they are interchangeable. However, assault and battery can have many different civil and criminal implications. That is why it is important to understand the distinction between the two when you are filing a personal injury lawsuit for assault or battery. Below is a quick guide to help you understand the differences between assault and battery.


In legal terms, an assault refers to a threat of bodily harm that is combined with a clear and visible ability to cause harm. It is not necessary that the person charged with an assault has injured the victim physically, but just the intent to harm, such as pulling out a gun and threatening to use it, is enough to hold them guilty and can lead to civil assault charges.

One of the key elements of identifying an assault is to identify an act that is intended to make threats of offensive or harmful contact. This type of action will lead to an apprehension of an injury in the victim. In legal terms, apprehension is taken to mean that the person under assault feels that injury is imminent. Typically, this act should be obvious for the assault to be legitimate. Although verbal threats are often insufficient to make it an assault, they can be considered so if the defendant coupled it with an act that shows their ability to harm the victim.

For instance, if someone tries to threaten a person saying they will cause harm without any apparent means to do so, then it cannot be considered an assault. However, if they couple that with a raised fist or by showing a weapon, then it causes a reasonable threat of harm in the victim and can be considered an assault in the eyes of the law even if no injury was caused.

Another important element of assault is intent. If a reasonable person has reason to believe that the acts of the defendant will cause apprehension, or real fear of injury, then intent can be deduced. For instance, holding a person at gunpoint shows the intent of the defendant, and it is substantially clear that the act will cause apprehension in the victim.

The intent to kill or cause an injury is generally irrelevant in most assault cases. Yet if the act of the defendant did not create a true threat of injury in the victim, then it cannot be considered as an assault. 

Assault charges can include a wide range of behaviors, and a weapon is not always involved. For instance, an assault can happen when the defendant threatens to physically fight the plaintiff,  hit them with a car, rape or molest them, or offensively touch or physically hurt them in any other way while showing the ability to do so. To file a lawsuit for an assault, the victim has to prove that they had reason to fear that the defendant would have caused the harm.


Battery refers to an act that actually causes bodily harm or unwanted physical contact. People often confuse assault with battery because in most cases, the defendant will threaten to harm the victim and then follow up on those threats by doing so. If they did not actually cause harm, then it would have been only a case of assault. When these threats are acted upon, it becomes battery.

Note that battery happens when the defendant offensively touches the victim, and it does not necessarily have to cause an injury. For instance, spitting on the victim or touching them inappropriately can be considered as battery and lead to civil or criminal liability depending upon the case.

The key elements of battery include the acts of the defendant, intent of the defendant to cause offensive contact or physical harm, and the injury or offensive contact caused by the defendant. In order to file a civil lawsuit for a battery, the victim will need to produce evidence of the damages caused. In other words, it should have caused damages that are monetarily quantifiable.

For instance, if the defendant slaps the victim, it may not have led to significant medical bills, loss of income, or pain and suffering, which could justify the point in filing a civil lawsuit by hiring a personal injury lawyer. However, you can press criminal charges against the defendant to seek justice for his/her actions.

It is always better to avoid any kind of violence in the first place. If someone threatens you to cause an injury or offensive contact, make sure to get somewhere safe and call the police for help. You can have the person arrested for an assault if they had shown the intent to harm you and had the means to carry out their threats. You can consult with an experienced California injury lawyer to understand how to proceed with your case in such instances.

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