Assault and battery are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation, but actually mean different things in the legal world. Technically assault is merely the threat of doing bodily harm to another, whereas a battery is any unwanted actual physical touching of another. In other words, it is possible to commit an assault and a battery with a single act, but only if one were to threaten harm to another and then follow through with actual physical contact. To be clear, a battery only requires some physical contact, it does not necessarily have to cause an injury. Harmless pushing, poking, or nudging (if uninvited) can potentially constitute a battery. On the other hand, offensive or insulting words, regardless of how provocative they are, are not an assault.

Specifically, assault is defined as a deliberate threat to cause another bodily harm through the use of physical force. To recover for an assault, a victim must have reasonably believed that the threatened harm was imminent and that the perpetrator would have actually followed through with the use of force had they not been prevented or unsuccessful. By definition, an assault does not require actual physical contact or harm. A perpetrator might instead point a gun or brandish a knife, both of which could constitute an assault, regardless of whether any harm actually occurred.

In order to win a case for assault, battery, or both, a plaintiff must establish:

Assault

1. Intent to harm or frighten another.
2. Actions or gestures that create apprehension in the other.
3. Damages proximately caused by the fear or apprehension.

Battery

1. Intent to make physical contact with one’s person, which is offensive or harmful.
2. Striking or making bodily contact without valid cause.
3. Damages proximately caused by the battery.