Certain legal terms are often tossed around with little regard for their accuracy. Assault is one of those terms. While it’s generally dropped as a substitute for an attack, assault is actually a specific legal term. People often wrongly assume that it’s a synonym for battery, but it is quite distinct. The basic distinction is that assault involves only the apprehension whereas battery involves the actual contact. Even understanding this though, you will need more information to determine whether you have, in fact, been assaulted.
The general definition of assault varies by state. However, the one thing that is consistent is that it is an element offense, meaning that the plaintiff has to prove all of the elements to win the case. The general elements involved include intent, a volitional act of some kind, and an immediate apprehension of impending, imminent, or immediate harmful or offensive contact. Each state will tweak this language somewhat, but that gives you the basics.
One of the most difficult parts of an assault claim is the intent element. Through this, the individual who assaulted you either had to do it intentionally or knowing that what he was doing was quite likely to cause the action that harmed you. In other words, assault cannot be an accident. It must always be intentional. At the same time though, it does not mean that your attacker has to know exactly what will happen. So long as there was some intent for harm or fear, the element is satisfied as you can see from LegalZoom and other similar sites.
The volitional act is one of the easiest elements to prove. It basically means that the individual did something to you. The catch here is that he had to do it of his own volition. This means that if someone tripped him down the staircase or if he was sleepwalking, you’re out of luck. But in most cases, volitional acts are easy to demonstrate.
Impending, Imminent, or Immediate Harmful or Offensive Contact
Many states do have the triple requirement of impending, imminent, or immediate, or they have some other combination of those three. The point is to emphasize the fact that you must be afraid that it is going to happen at once. It cannot be a future fear. It cannot be a fear that something will happen sometime tomorrow or the next day. The additional requirement is that you had to be afraid of a specific contact. Threatening letters and the like
generally don’t qualify. At the same time, if you actually do get struck or receive a harmful contact, then it is no longer assault. It’s battery.
The line between assault and battery is a fine one. You need to make sure that you understand what it is so that you don’t wind up claiming the wrong thing. Assault requires intent, a volitional act, and impending, imminent, or immediate harmful or offensive contact. If these are satisfied, then you can make your claim. Otherwise, you will be out of luck.