Assault and battery is a crime, but it's also an infraction against the rights of private citizens. Crime victims and their families have every right to file a civil lawsuit for financial compensation.
- Simple & Aggravated Assault
- Assault & Battery
- Third-Party Property Owner Negligence
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Negligent third-party property owners can be held accountable for failing to protect their visitors, residents or guests. Every property owner in America, according to state laws, has a basic duty to provide its lawful guests with adequate security. And while the security measures required at any one property will vary, owners who fail to uphold their obligations can be held liable for crimes, including the crimes of assault and battery, that ensue.
The Difference Between Criminal & Civil Lawsuits
Criminal cases are intended to punish offenders and maintain public safety by taking dangerous individuals off the street. Civil lawsuits, on the other hand, are designed to make the victims of crime whole in light of the injuries, physical, emotional and financial, that crime can cause.
The criminal justice system isn't particularly effective at offering compensation to the victims of crime, although recent legislative efforts have made things better. Today, every state has its own crime victims' compensation fund. Using fines levied against convicted criminals, these compensation programs offer money to crime survivors and their families, helping to cover a portion of the medical expenses, lost wages and property that crime so often threatens.
While these funds are a necessary line of support for thousands of people every year, they also require prompt reporting and impose strict compensation limits.
Why Consider A Private Lawsuit For Crime?
To secure full compensation, most victims and families turn to the civil court system and file private lawsuits. You have every right to file a civil lawsuit against the person who hurt you or your loved one. Another option? Suing the person or company who owns the property where you were assaulted.
What Is Assault & Battery?
In most cases, assault and battery come together as a package deal. Assault, in the majority of jurisdictions, relates only to the credible threat of physical harm. More narrowly, the point of this definition lies in the word "credible." A "credible" threat, in the eyes of the law, is one that would make a reasonable person fear imminent bodily harm.
Generally, verbal threats alone aren't enough to constitute assault. In passionate moments, many people make threats they have no intention of carrying out. It's the real intent to harm, whether realized or not, that matters for the crime of assault.
Battery, on the other hand, is the actual infliction of physical harm. In American civil law, the word "battery" is generally taken to mean physical contact of a harmful or offensive nature without the other person's consent.
Simple Vs. Aggravated Assault
The distinction between assault and battery as separate criminal acts has weakened over time. Today, many state statutes speak of assault and battery as a single crime, while some go further and define "assault" as the actual infliction of physical injury.
Most state laws, however, make a distinction between simple and aggravated assaults, usually due to the severity of the injuries inflicted or the presence of a weapon (as in "assault with a deadly weapon"). Sometimes, aggravated charges are attached to assaults that were committed in order to further another serious crime, like sexual assault.
The Question Of Intent In Civil Lawsuits
In explaining these criminal laws, it should've become clear that intent is an important factor in analyzing the criminality of someone's actions. You can't convict someone of assault and battery unless they intended to cause physical harm or, at a minimum, intended to elicit in the victim a reasonable belief that they were at risk of sustaining physical harm.
Civil lawsuits don't always work like that. Most private lawsuits filed through the civil justice system are founded in the legal concept of negligence. In brief, negligence is a careless disregard for human health. It doesn't necessarily include an intent to harm someone else.
Intentional Torts: Suing The Attacker
That being said, many civil lawsuits are filed over criminal acts that were obviously intentional. Assault and battery cases often take this form, especially when the plaintiff is suing their attacker, which is why they're usually referred to as "intentional torts."
And remember, assault is its own cause of action (reason to sue), separate in principle from battery. In theory, you could sue someone for assault even though you didn't suffer any physical injuries; believing you were in imminent peril of bodily harm is enough.
Filing Suit Against A Negligent Third-Party
The calculus changes somewhat when we turn to lawsuits filed against negligent third-party property owners.
Holding someone accountable for negligence requires a duty. Doctors, for example, owe their patients a duty to provide medical care at a suitable level of quality. That's why, when a doctor violates their duty of care, they can be sued for medical malpractice. But we wouldn't hold people who don't have an MD to the same standard, in part because they don't owe other people a duty to provide adequate medical care.
The doctor's intention in providing sub-standard care doesn't matter for the purposes of malpractice liability. Medical malpractice attorneys often sue physicians who had no intention of harming their patients, but were negligent nonetheless.
A Property Owner's Security Duty
Negligent security lawsuits work in much the same way. Every property owner in the United States has a basic duty to provide their guests, visitors and residents with a reasonable degree of security. Parking lots and garages, convenience stores, office buildings, apartment complexes, hotels, restaurants, bars and private residences - every property comes with a certain level of liability where crime is concerned.
It goes without saying that thousands of crime every year, including numerous assault and battery crimes, could be prevented through better security. And to encourage businesses and other property owners to provide adequate security, state laws hold them accountable for failing to do so. The basic logic is simple. When you welcome visitors into your place of business, you should do what you can to protect them.
What Does Negligent Security Look Like?
In order to secure compensation, you'll have to prove that the property owner failed to provide adequate security, which means you'll have to define what form and amount of security should have been in place. You'll also have to demonstrate that the property owner's security failure allowed the crime to occur.
Security requirements vary from place to place. Properties in high-crime neighborhoods usually require more stringent safety protocols than businesses elsewhere. And properties with a history of specific crimes (like a bar where fights often break out) are usually required to guard against that specific sort of crime more stringently.
So a bar in a high-crime area should consider stationing a security guard, trained bouncer or off-duty police officer in the establishment to watch for signs of trouble. Apartment buildings should maintain working door and window locks at all times to prevent break-ins.
Parking garages should invest in bright overhead lighting so that guests are able to survey their surroundings with ease. Convenience stores should have working and visible security camera systems to deter potential offenders and capture evidence in the case of an assault.
Learn More In A Free Consultation
Were you or a loved one assaulted on someone else's property? Our experienced attorneys can help. If a property owner's negligence led to the crime, you and your family may be entitled to pursue significant financial compensation. You can learn more about your legal options by contacting our lawyers today for a free consultation.