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Civil Battery in California Torts

A “tort” is, generally speaking, something that would allow a victim to sue the offender for money. This is different, obviously, from a “crime” in which the relief sought is not money, but rather incarceration. Incarceration can refer to many different things — community service, probation, etc — and not just time served in jail or prison.

One of the first torts I learned about in law school was battery followed very quickly by assault. If your law school experience was like mine, then you learned that a civil battery is a “harmful or offensive touching”. A touching could, in theory, be any sort of contact the defendant makes with the plaintiff’s person or something connected to the plaintiff (e.g. something the plaintiff is holding in his hand). A typical defense to a battery cause of action might be the Crowded World Doctrine, for example. The Crowded World Doctrine basically says that the world is full of people so some amount of physical contact — imagine riding a crowded subway train — with other people is an inevitable part of daily life.

This definition, however, is theoretical and terribly useful in the real world if you have actually been involved in a civil battery. A more useful definition would be one that, for instance, lists out the various criteria for civil battery. If you fulfill the listed criteria, then you as a plaintiff have made a case for civil battery. Whether you prevail, of course, depends on what defenses the defendant can raise and prove.

In California, the elements of a cause of action for civil battery are as follows:

  1. defendant touched plaintiff, or caused plaintiff to be touched, with the intent to harm or offend plaintiff,
  2. plaintiff did not consent to the touching,
  3. plaintiff was harmed or offended by defendant’s conduct,
  4. a reasonable person in plaintiff’s position would have been offended by the touching.

This list of criteria comes from a 2013 California Court of Appeals case called So v. Shin. For the lawyers out there, the cite is: So v. Shin (2013) 212 Cal.App.4th 652, 669. As always, if you’re relying on a court case as an authority, check to see if the case is still effective (i.e. has not been overturned, etc) and that the court in question has the¬†ability to issue binding authority for your particular situation. For instance, if you’re in state court in Nevada, the Nevada court does not have to follow a court case from California.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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