Assault is an intentional tort where defendant causes plaintiff to apprehend imminent harmful or offensive contact

Be sure to watch the video below and try the quiz, too.

If you ever played a game as a child in which you and your friends tried to make each other flinch, then you understand the tort of assault.  In an assault claim the plaintiff will try to prove that defendant:

  • committed an intentional act;
  • intending to cause plaintiff to be in apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact; and
  • plaintiff actually experienced apprehension of such contact.


Contact is not required, but plaintiff must be aware that such contact is imminent

Looking at the clip to the right you can see defendant is throwing a rock at the plaintiff.  Because the plaintiff sees the rock coming at him, he is in apprehension of imminent harmful contact, therefore, he should prevail on his assault claim.

Note that plaintiff is not actually hit by the rock.  If he were hit by the rock he could sue for battery, too.  The tort of assault allows plaintiff to recover for the emotional damage he experiences from his fear of the contact.


Offensive Contact is Sufficient but the Contact must be imminent

A plaintiff can win on an assault claim even if he is in apprehension of offensive contact – – such as an unwanted touch – –  although the touch might not be inherently harmful.  But the contact must be imminent and plaintiff must be in apprehension of that contact. 

For that reason, a threat of future violence is usually not sufficient to prevail on an assault claim. If defendant says to plaintiff, “I’ll kick you next week!” plaintiff probably will not win if he sues based on assault.  There was no apprehension of imminent contact.


On the other hand, if defendant launches a kick at plaintiff’s face, that’s assault regardless of whether defendant connects.

Below is a video on assault with a quiz.  Try it, don’t be apprehensive.