Black’s Law Dictionary defines assault as “the threat or use of force on another that causes that person to have a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact.” This means that the tortfeasor does not have to make physical contact with the victim. The victim only needs to be placed under a reasonable amount of fear that the physical contact will occur. In fact if physical contact does occur, this tort is no longer considered an assault, it becomes a battery.
Battery is defined as “an intentional and offensive touching of another without lawful justification” according to Black’s Law Dictionary. The three main elements that identify battery are: “unconsented physical contact, offensive or harmful contact, and the tortfeasor’s intent to touch another person in an offensive or injurious manner (Buckley & Okrent, 2004).” One of the key elements is intent. If a person touches you but it was accidently, it would not be considered battery. The intent to injure the person must be present for battery. Also, if the tortfeasor intends to make harmful physical contact with one person, and accidently hits a different person, the intent is transferred to the unintended victim. So even if the tortfeasor didn’t intend to hit a third person, it is still a battery on that individual.
False imprisonment is when a tortfeasor purposely confines a person against their will. This tort also has some key elements, which are: “confinement without captive’s consent, tortfeasor’s intent to confine victim, confinement for an appreciable length of time, and no reasonable means of escape (Buckley & Okrent, 2004).” There are several ways of confining a person. This can be accomplished by locking the captive in a room with no windows and a locked door, or by using the threat of harm to keep the captive from escaping. The captive also needs to know that they are being confined for false imprisonment. For instance, if the “captive” was asleep during the time of confinement, the captive wouldn’t have known they were being confined.
Also, for a false imprisonment tort, there can be no reasonable means of escape. This means that if the only way to escape is by jumping out of a fourth floor window, it is not a reasonable way to escape. On the contrary, if there was a sliding glass door that led out to a ground floor patio, the captive could reasonably escape. In cases where shoplifting is involved false imprisonment is a bit more complicated. This is because the stores have a right to protect themselves from shoplifters, so some states have enacted statutes that allow stores and their employees to detain suspected shoplifters. “However, any such detention of a suspected shoplifter must be reasonable in length and manner. Detentions without probable cause, for an unreasonable amount of time, or in an unreasonable manner may leave the store open to liability for false imprisonment and possibly other claims (“Shoplifting,” n.d.).” Defenses of Intentional Torts
Self-defense is the exercise of reasonable force to repel an attack upon one’s person or to avoid confinement (Buckley & Okrent, 2004). This is a common defense for the torts of assault and battery, and not so commonly in false imprisonment. The defense of self-defense allows for an individual to protect themselves and or their property from an assailant. One of the major elements of self-defense is the use of reasonable force. This means that if a person is being attacked and shoots the assailant, once the assailant is incapacitated, reasonable force has been used. If the victim were to then stand over the incapacitated assailant and continue to fire rounds, then excessive force has been used and the self-defense may no longer be applicable.
Defense of others is when someone uses reasonable force to protect another person or property from harm. This defense is used when an individual steps in to keep the victim from being injured, or to keep property from being injured, destroyed or stolen. Reasonable force is also a key element of this defense.
Another type of defense is mistake, which is the “good-faith belief, based upon incorrect information, that one is justified in committing an intentional tort under the circumstances (Buckley & Okrent, 2004).” This means that a person acting on false information that they believed to be true committed a tort themselves. For mistake to be a legal defense, certain elements must be met. These elements are “good-faith conviction that one’s actions are justified, with the belief based upon faulty information, and the conduct would otherwise be considered tortious but for the erroneous belief (Buckley & Okrent, 2004).” IRAC
Issue: Has Leroy McPhillen committed a battery against John? Rule: Battery is the unconsented harmful or offensive touching with the intent to harm or offend. Leroy did intend to immobilize John when he grabbed him, but this was done in the defense of a third party. Analysis: While Leroy was in the pub, he observed a drunken man yelling foul words at a woman sitting near him. The intoxicated man, John, came up to the woman, Jane. Leroy noticed that there could be trouble and in an effort to avoid any confrontation, he invited John over to the bar for a drink. John did not accept this invitation and told Leroy he should mind his own business.
At this point, John grabbed Jane by the wrist and Leroy, in an effort to help Jane, grabbed John and held his arm behind his back and placed him in a neck hold. This act could be considered battery because John did not want Leroy to touch him, let alone immobilize him. John protested intensely for Leroy to let him go. Leroy refused to, and firmly placed John in a chair, and told him not to move or else he would get punched. It was at this time that Jane told Leroy that John was her husband. Leroy acted in a way to protect Jane from John, whom he believed was going to harm her and used reasonable force in Jane’s defense. Leroy reacted to this situation in good faith even though he did not have all the facts in the scenario. Leroy has met all of the elements for defenses of mistake and defense of others. Conclusion: Leroy has not committed a battery against John, because he was acting on a mistake in defense of a third party.
Black’s Law Dictionary, Assault (9th ed. 2009)
Black’s Law Dictionary, Battery (9th ed. 2009)
Buckley, W., & Okrent, C. (2004). Torts and personal injury law. (3rd ed.). Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Learning.
Shoplifting. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/shoplifting.html