The difference between assault and battery is that battery includes actual physical contact while assault does not. When someone does something that would cause a person to be afraid of imminent harm, like someone pointing a gun at you, this constitutes assault. When someone makes harmful or offensive physical contact towards you, this is considered battery.
Assault and Battery as Crimes and Torts
The same behavior can land a person in jail and empty his bank account to pay civil damages. Some actions can be both crimes and torts (civil wrong). A person can stand trial for the criminal charge of murder and a separate case in civil court for money damages for manslaughter or wrongful death.
Similarly, assault and battery can be both crimes and torts. Georgia law creates the tort of assault when it says:
“Any violent injury or illegal attempt to commit a physical injury upon a
person is a tort for which damages may be recovered.” OCGA 51-1-14 (2018)
Georgia law also creates the tort of battery in OCGA 51-1-13, which says that if someone hurts you physically, you can sue that person for money damages in civil court. The offending person’s intent is irrelevant, unless the person has a justification under the law. The person’s intent is relevant when it comes to the amount of compensation that person has to pay you.
Let’s say that someone (Person A) collided with a bystander (Person B) when waiting at a bus stop. Here are reasons that Person A might have bumped into Person B:
- Person A lost his balance.
- Person A had a medical emergency that caused him to lose control of his body temporarily, like a seizure or heart attack.
- Person A was protecting himself or others from Person B, who was assaulting people.
- Person B had just stolen someone’s purse, and Person A was trying to stop Person B.
- Person B had wandered into the street without looking, while using his cell phone, and Person A shoved him out of the way of an oncoming vehicle.
- Person A intentionally tried to push Person B in front of a moving bus.
- Person A shoved Person B for some intentional reason, like to start a fight.
- Someone bumped into Person A, pushing him into Person B.
- Person A intended to pull a prank on Person B, but the event went horribly wrong, resulting in severe injury to Person B.
The facts of each of these situations will affect whether a court will find Person A guilty of either the criminal charges of assault and battery or the civil torts of these actions.
The Definitions of the Crimes of Assault and Battery
It can help to understand the torts of assault and battery if you know the legal definitions of the crimes. OCGA 16-5-20 defines the crime of simple assault as trying to cause a violent injury to someone else or doing something that would make someone reasonably afraid of immediate harm.
Aggravated assault, as defined in OCGA 16-5-21, is when someone commits what would be a simple assault, but also:
- With the intent to rob, rape, or murder, or
- With a deadly weapon or any object that could or did cause serious physical injury, or
- With an object that could or did strangle the victim, or
- Fired a gun from a moving vehicle toward the victim.
Georgia law defines three kinds of battery – simple battery, battery, and aggravated battery. Simple battery, according to OCGA 16-5-23, is when someone intentionally hurts someone physically or makes physical contact that is insulting or provoking.
Battery is the next level up in the severity of the crime. OCGA 16-5-23.1 says that battery is what would be simple battery, but the victim sustains substantial or visible bodily harm.
The most severe form of criminal battery is aggravated battery. According to OCGA 16-5-24, aggravated battery is when the battery disfigures the victim or causes the victim to lose the use of a body part.
Getting Help from an Atlanta Lawyer
The person who hurt you does not have to get convicted of the crimes of assault and battery for us to pursue damages for the harm you suffered. The burden of proof is different in civil and criminal cases. A person can be guilty of the torts of assault and battery even if the conduct does not rise to the level of criminal assault and battery.