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The Basics of Assault in Massachusetts Personal Injury Law

When you think of the word “assault,” your mind may conjure images of criminal activity. You may not think that “assault” can be a term used in the civil litigation context as well.

An assault in Massachusetts is an act creating a reasonable apprehension of fear in another person that is of immediate harmful or offense contact to the victim’s person. Assault requires the element of intent. Damages, such as monetary or bodily injury damages are not required to prevail in an assault case in Massachusetts.

The reasonable apprehension by another person must be about a “reasonable person.” The “reasonable person” who is the victim of an assault does not need to know the identity of the person who commits the assault.

Consider this example: A man was walking down a quiet street. Little did he know, a high school student hid in the bushes near the man’s house. He waited for someone to walk by him to scare him. The high school student wanted to pull a prank on someone, so the student jumped out suddenly and without warning, wearing a scary costume. The high school student did not physically touch the man, but the man was so scared that he had a heart attack and died at the hospital. Did the high school student assault the man?

Under Massachusetts personal injury law, the student indeed committed an assault against the man. His action was an assault because the student created a reasonable apprehension of fear in the man that was an offensive contact to the man. In fact, even if the man had not succumbed to a heart attack, the high school student still committed an assault because the act was harmful or offensive. In addition, even if the man had not succumbed to a heart attack, the man could prevail in an assault case against the high school student because the man would not need to prove damages, such as monetary or bodily injury damages, to prevail.

Now, suppose the man was afraid of shadows and that instead of jumping out of a bush with a scary Pokémon costume the student instead had rounded a corner with his shadow appearing in front of him. Suppose that the shadow had scared the man. Would this be an assault? Under Massachusetts law, the apprehension of fear in another person must be a reasonable apprehension of fear. Most reasonable people would not be afraid of a shadow on a street. A reasonable person would be afraid of a scary costume, however.

Imagine instead that the boy had wanted to jump out in the costume in front of a certain person, such as one of his high school friends. Instead of trying to scare one of his high school friends, the boy actually scared the elderly man. Under these facts, the boy would still be found to have assaulted the man, under the theory of transferred intent. This means that the intent to jump out and scare someone extends to the person who was ultimately assaulted. The key to this doctrine is that the person must be a reasonable person who had a reasonable apprehension of fear as a result of the defendant’s act. The intent to commit the act matters even if the act occurs against a different person than originally intended.

Suppose that the high school student tripped and fell out of a bush and his tripping scared the man. Would the high school student be liable for an assault? The answer is no in this scenario, because the high school student did not intent to commit the act that created a reasonable apprehension of fear in the man that is of immediate harmful or offensive contact to the victim’s person. Remember: the element of intent is required in an assault claim.

Finally, suppose that the high school student intentionally jumped out behind the bush and scared two people but only intending to scare one? The high school student would be liable to both people because he still intended to commit an assault, an act creating a reasonable apprehension of fear in another person.

The basics of assault in Massachusetts personal injury law may be difficult to master or understand. Therefore, it important to hire a competent attorney who has experience in this area of the law and can properly evaluate and handle your case.

If you have any questions about motor vehicle accidents, negligence matters, personal injury law, tort law, intentional torts, damages, or other legal incidents, please contact our offices. You may schedule a free consultation with an experienced professional today. Call 978-225-9030 during business hours or complete a contact form online. Do not delay. Our experienced team could work for you. Make the call today.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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