On the ninth day of Christmas, a marshal served on me! A complaint alleging I assaulted someone civil-y!
Welcome to part nine of The Law Office of Christopher J. Mutchler’s festive twelve part pseudo-satirical series on Connecticut personal injury law: assault.
Assault is a very simple tort, but one that is often confused due to its portrayal in popular culture. Assault is an act intended to create reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact. You do not need to actually hit someone to assault them, you just have to make them fear that you are about to hit them. That assault did not require any actual touching absolutely blew my mind in my first year of law school, and I could not get beyond the fact that the professor had addressed its portrayal to the contrary in popular culture. To get a better understanding, lets use the same example as in battery.
Here it is again. It’s Christmas morning, and the family is opening presents. Little Billy’s presents are wrapped in blue wrapping paper, and Little Susie’s presents are wrapped in pink wrapping paper. Little Billy unwraps a toy dump truck, and begins shrieking in excitement. Little Susie unwraps a doll house, and begins to cry. Little Susie walks over to Little Billy and gives him a great big shove.
“MY DUMP TRUCK!” She screams.
In Part Eight, we learned that Little Susie has committed a battery. But has she also committed an assault?
As is so often the case in law, the answer is “it depends.” We need more facts to say definitively whether an assault has been committed. There absolutely has been a harmful or offensive touching, and Little Susie clearly acted intentionally. The crux of an assault claim, however, is whether the person assaulted was “reasonably apprehensive” of the harmful or offensive contact.
If Little Billy had his back turned and Little Susie snuck up behind him without his knowing, then Little Billy could not have been put in “reasonable apprehension.” This is because under these facts, Little Billy did not know that Little Susie was about to push him, and thus could not have been fearful of being pushed.
If, however, Little Susie did not sneak up on Little Billy but instead turned a bright shade of red, began stomping her feet and pounding her firsts, let out a shriek and charged Little Billy, then we may have a case for assault. All of these actions would make a reasonable person fearful that they were about to be hit. If Little Billy watched Little Susie act in this way before Little Susie Pushed him, Little Susie may very well be liable to Little Billy for assault.
Life’s not always fair, but it may be fairer than you think it is. If you’re in a bind, the Law Office of Christopher J. Mutchler may be able to help.
Copyright Christopher Mutchler