When Can You Sue for Assault, Battery, or Physical Abuse?

You have the right to pursue compensation for assault injuries whether or not your attacker is convicted. Learn about deadlines for assault lawsuits.

Assault occurs when a person deliberately strikes another person or places them in fear of imminent injury or death. Some forms of physical abuse legally count as assault or battery.

The brutality of assault ranges from minor verbal threats of immediate harm to potentially fatal physical injuries to the victim.

Assault is a criminal offense. The perpetrator may end up behind bars, but that won’t pay for medical bills, lost wages, or pain and suffering. Victims deserve fair compensation for their injuries.

Here’s where we unpack different kinds of assault, and how to seek compensation for damages.

Defining Assault, Battery, and Physical Abuse

Every state has its own criminal laws to define assault, battery, and physical abuse.

It helps to understand some terms used by police and attorneys:

  • Intent: Acting with intent means doing something with a criminal or wrongful purpose.
  • Misdemeanor: A misdemeanor offense is one that is punishable by monetary fines or incarceration no longer than one year. Jail time for a misdemeanor is typically served in a county or city jail.
  • Felony: More serious offenses, like aggravated assault, are felony crimes punishable by incarceration for more than one year. Criminals guilty of felony assault and battery are incarcerated in state or federal prisons.

Defining Assault

In general, an assault is an act where:

  1. The wrongdoer has the intent to cause serious bodily injury. For example, when a person carries a knife into a fight with the intention to use it on another person.
  2. The wrongdoer has the ability to carry out the assault. In most states, it’s not enough to intend to harm another person if there’s no reasonable way the person can actually do it.

Behavior defined as assault in one state may be called battery, reckless endangerment, menacing, or other descriptive terms in another state. There are also laws governing the legality of fighting, known as “mutual combat” laws. Look into your own state’s laws for specifics.

The two general categories of assault:

  1. Simple assault is an intentional act that causes another person to be in reasonable fear of imminent physical harm. Simple assault can also be an attempt to hurt another person where the attempt fails. Simple assault is often classed as a misdemeanor offense.
  2. Aggravated assault is an attack with the intent to cause severe bodily injury or an assault committed with a deadly weapon. An assault can also be classified as aggravated if the victim was particularly vulnerable, like a pregnant woman or a frail elderly person. Aggravated assault is usually classed as a felony.

Aggravated assault often includes the use of a gun, knife, broken bottle, or other object that can cause grave harm or death.

Attempted aggravated assault is showing a weapon and threatening harm. Not including sexual assaults, more than 800,000 aggravated assaults are reported annually.

Battery is the intentional harmful or offensive touching of a person without consent. Battery doesn’t necessarily have to result in injury.

Contact that a reasonable person would consider harmful or offensive could include spitting, patting a person’s buttocks, or purposely brushing against a women’s breasts. Almost any kind of harmful touching can be grounds for a battery case.

Physical abuse refers to violent behavior by one person towards another that results in substantial bodily injury. Physical abuse that occurs between a former or current spouse or intimate partner is considered domestic violence.

Can There Be An Assault Without Injury?

Yes, a physical injury isn’t necessary to qualify as assault. An assault takes place when a victim believes the assailant is about to inflict serious bodily harm or death, even if the physical assault never occurs.

Example: Aggravated Assault During Domestic Violence

Max had a history of domestic violence.  The police arrested him several times on prior occasions for slapping and “roughing up” Judith.

One day, while Judith was ironing clothes, an argument developed. Max picked up the hot iron and threw it at Judith. It narrowly missed her head.

Although Judith had no physical injuries, because of Max’s previous abuse, she believed Max intended to hit her in the head with the iron. Judith called 911. She was in terrible fear for her safety, afraid that Max was going to kill her this time.

There was no physical contact, but because of Max’s previous abuse and Judith’s fear for her life, Max was arrested and charged with aggravated assault.

Other examples of felonious assault include:

  • Assault on children and the elderly
  • Sexual assault and attempted sexual assault
  • Murder and attempted murder
  • Manslaughter (voluntary and involuntary)

Depending on your state’s laws, there may be several sub-categories of assault. Just about any harmful interaction between people has an element of assault. For example, assault charges may be added to an arrest for crimes such as sexual abuse, domestic abuse, drunk driving, or resisting arrest.

In many states, stand-your-ground laws protect the victim’s right to use deadly force to protect themselves from threatened felonious assault.

Sexual Assault: Rape and Attempted Rape

Government records indicate one out of six women, and one in 33 men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. Sexual violence is usually tracked separately from other forms of assault. However, sexual violence is an aggravated assault and battery against the victim.

Victims of sexual assault are entitled to protection under the same laws as any other assault victim, even if their attacker was an intimate partner. Further, under federal law, sexual assault victims are entitled to free rape examinations, legal aid, and no-cost restraining orders against their attacker.

Hotlines and Links for Sexual Assault Victims:

National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-656-4673 (24/7 hotline)

1in6 Online Helpline
Helpline for male survivors of adult sexual assault (24/7, free, anonymous)

When You Can Sue for Assault Injuries

Most states have a statute of limitations for “intentional tort” cases such as assault, battery, and physical abuse. Your lawsuit must be filed in civil court before the statute runs out or you forfeit your right to pursue financial compensation.

Victims of sexual assault or abuse have an extended or indefinite opportunity to sue for damages in many states. Consult a personal injury lawyer about the statutes that apply to your claim. 

Your attacker can not only face criminal prosecution but can be civilly liable as well.

Difference Between Civil Cases and Criminal Cases

Civil liability means the attacker can be held responsible for payment of your damages in a lawsuit, as opposed to criminal liability, which means the attacker faces punishment for a crime.

You have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the aggressor whether or not they were convicted of a crime, and against other parties who may have contributed to the circumstance leading to the assault.

When the assault victim is a minor child, the statute of limitation may be “tolled” meaning the statute doesn’t start to run until the child reaches the age of majority. For example, if a 16-year-old child is assaulted, in most states they will be able to file a lawsuit up until 2 years after their 18th birthday.

Types of Damages in Civil Assault Cases

Serious or permanent injuries can require hospitalization and a long, painful recovery. Assault injuries often require stitches, dental work, or plastic surgery.

Some seriously injured victims can’t work during their recovery, and the pain and suffering they endure is terrible. A victim’s medical bills, expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress are all compensable.

Damages from assault and battery may include:

  • Medical treatment costs
  • Mental health treatment costs
  • Out-of-pocket expenses related to treatment
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and emotional distress

In cases of extreme malice or oppression, some states allow a jury to award punitive damages, also called exemplary damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and set an example as a warning to others.

Unfortunately, the kind of person who commits aggravated assault often doesn’t have many assets.

Reputable personal injury attorneys provide a free consultation to injury victims. You may consult with as many attorneys as you want. It costs nothing to find out if you have grounds for a civil lawsuit and the likelihood of financial recovery.

If you can’t afford to hire a private attorney, ask for help through local crime victim service agencies. Some agencies specifically support domestic violence and sexual assault victims. Professional legal advice is critical when dealing with an assault or abuse case.

Crime Victim Compensation Programs

Persons convicted of assault and battery may have an order of restitution included in their sentence, meaning they are legally obligated to pay for the victim’s damages. Typically, restitution orders allow the criminal to pay small amounts over time.

If the criminal goes to federal prison for years, they might not get an order of restitution. After all, they won’t have much of an income for a very long time. If they’re out on probation and don’t pay, they’ll end up in jail. Either way, the victim won’t get the compensation they deserve for their damages.

Fortunately, assault victims don’t have to rely on their attacker’s ability to pay restitution.

State-level crime victim compensation programs help by paying the costs of medical care, mental health treatment, and lost wages for assault victims. State compensation programs help families of murder victims pay for funerals and other expenses.

Most victim compensation programs won’t pay an amount for non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Coverage for medical expenses kicks in after the victim’s health insurance or Medicaid coverage has been exhausted. Every state has different types of benefits, limits, and time frames.

Find your State Crime Victim Compensation Program for contact information, application deadlines, and benefit details.

Proving Your Financial Losses

Victim compensation programs will help pay for your damages, but you must provide proof of your financial losses caused by the assault.

You’ll need to gather:

  • Copies of your medical records and bills
  • Receipts for out-of-pocket expenses like medications, bandages, and assistive devices
  • Proof of transportation costs like receipts for gas, cab fare, and parking fees for medical or court appointments
  • A statement of lost income from your employer
  • Receipts for child care or other services related to the assault

Assault Crime Laws and Services

Offenses that violate United States federal laws are called federal crimes.

Examples of types of assault that are federal crimes:

  • Aggravated Assault/Battery
  • Armed Robbery
  • Attempted Murder
  • Assault with a Deadly Weapon
  • Child Abuse
  • First Degree Murder
  • Homicide
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Hate Crimes

The Crime Victim Rights Act

The Crime Victim Rights Act of 2004 is a bill of rights for anyone directly harmed by a federal crime. The act gives assault victims a voice in the criminal prosecution of their attacker and paves the way for victims to demand financial restitution from the criminal.

Crime victim’s rights include:

  • The right to dignified and respectful treatment by prosecutors and law enforcement
  • The right to reasonable protection from the person or persons accused of the crime
  • The right to notification of court proceedings and parole hearings
  • The right to speak at court when the accused is entering a plea or receiving a sentence
  • The right to speak at court hearings when probation is under consideration
  • The right to speak at parole hearings dealing with the convict’s early release from prison
  • The right to speak with the prosecutor about issues related to your case
  • The right to restitution from the criminal

The Violence Against Women Act

The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) became law to promote the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. The act now protects all domestic violence victims, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Under VAWA, all convicted abusers are automatically required to pay restitution. Also, the act allows domestic assault victims to seek compensation through civil lawsuits, whether or not the attacker was convicted on criminal charges.

Assault Victim Impact Statement

In a felony case, the victim of an assault has a right to a victim impact statement. The statement is confidential, and with some exceptions, only the judge reviews it. Your statement will discuss the effect the crime has had on you and your loved ones.

You’ll explain how the brutal assault has affected you physically, emotionally, and financially, your loss of enjoyment of life, and your need for compensation. The court will consider your losses before sentencing the attacker, and when deciding on restitution.

State Laws and Services for Assault Victims

Complementary to federal victim rights laws, all U.S. states and territories have similar victim rights laws and support services.

Use the map provided by the Office for Victims of Crime to find services in your state.

Helpful Links for Assault and Battery Victims

National Domestic Violence Hotline
Hotline: 800.799.SAFE
Through this hotline, an advocate can provide local direct service resources (safehouse shelters, transportation, casework assistance) and crisis intervention.

National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-656-4673 [24/7 hotline]

Women’s Law
Legal information for victims of abuse, including information on protective orders

Directory of Crime Victim Services
Offers links to programs and services available to crime victims

VictimConnect
National Hotline for Crime Victims
1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846)

National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards
Links to every state’s compensation program

Assault and Abuse Questions

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>