Making a Civil Injury Claim for Battery

Here are the elements that you'll need to prove to bring a civil injury claim or lawsuit for battery.

By , Attorney · University of Michigan Law School

In a personal injury civil case, the two essential elements of a battery claim are:

  • actual offensive or harmful contact with the plaintiff and
  • the defendant's intention to cause that contact.

In most battery cases, the plaintiff's main task is to prove contact -- whether it was harmful or offensive and whether the defendant intended to cause contact will be inferred by the jury. Read on more more in-depth information on how to prove battery. For more basic information, check out our article on assault and battery as personal injury claims.

Burden of Proof in Battery Cases

In a civil case, the plaintiff must convince the jury that her version of events is "more-likely-than-not" true. Civil battery does not need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt (that higher standard is reserved for criminal cases).

In civil cases, the jury must be convinced that it is "more-likely-than-not" that harmful or offensive contact occurred and that is "more-likely-than-not" the defendant intended to cause the contact.

Proving Contact

The fact of contact is best proved by evidence like corroborating witnesses not closely associated with the plaintiff, for example bar patrons that witnessed the defendant punching the plaintiff in the face.

Photographs of any results from the contact are also helpful, e.g. a cut or a bruise, but these only help establish that the contact happened, not that the plaintiff is giving an accurate description of how the contact happened.

Perhaps the best possible evidence, aside from the defendant admitting contact, is video or photographic evidence of the contact as it occurred. In the likely event that no evidence of this type is available, the plaintiff's only proof of contact will be his testimony, which the defendant will most likely contradict with his own testimony.

The plaintiff will need to gather as much supporting evidence as possible to back up his version of events. For example, witnesses that say both parties were in the same place at the same time, evidence that the defendant and plaintiff had an ongoing dispute or previous tensions, etc.

It is also possible that the defendant will admit contact and deny liability on other grounds, such as claiming the contact was unintentional or not offensive or in self-defense. In that case, the defendant will generally admit early on, such as in interrogatories or a deposition, that the fact of contact is not in dispute. Once an admission takes place, and it isn't contradicted later, the plaintiff will not need to bother with giving the jury evidence that proves contact.

Proving Contact was Harmful or Offensive

If contact is proved, proving whether the contact was harmful will be much easier. Because harmful contact is anything that alters the plaintiff's body or something closely associated with the body, the very fact of contact in most cases will necessarily prove it was harmful.

Evidence like medical reports and photos will definitely help bolster the claim of harmful contact, but that kind of evidence will be more relevant to the kind of damages the defendant should pay to the plaintiff.

Proving the contact was offensive is also easier once the contact itself is proved. The jury will be asked if it is more-likely-than-not that a reasonable person would find the contact offensive. Therefore, they do not necessarily need to believe the plaintiff's testimony about the emotional effect of the contact. They will decide for themselves if the contact was something that would cause offense or any of the other negative reactions.

Proving the Defendant Intended to Cause Contact

Battery is one of several intentional torts. And "intent" here means that the defendant intended to cause the contact or engaged in behavior that she believed with substantial certainty would cause the contact.

The defendant's state of mind when she acted to cause the contact is not part of the consideration, that is, whether she wanted to hurt the plaintiff, embarrass him, etc. Therefore, it is not the plaintiff's job to somehow prove the inner workings of the defendant's mind when she acted.

It is for the jury to determine, in light of the circumstances of the case, whether the defendant must have been certain or substantially certain that her acts would cause the contact. If the jury determines that the defendant was simply reckless, i.e. did not consider likely consequences or acted in disregard of them, or negligent, then the defendant will not be held liable for battery.

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