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At common law, an intentional unpermitted act causing harmful or offensive contact with the "person" of another.

Battery is concerned with the right to have one's body left alone by others.

Battery is both a tort and a crime. Its essential element, harmful or offensive contact, is the same in both areas of the law. The main distinction between the two categories lies in the penalty imposed. A defendant sued for a tort is civilly liable to the plaintiff for damages. The punishment for criminal battery is a fine, imprisonment, or both. Usually battery is prosecuted as a crime only in cases involving serious harm to the victim.


The following elements must be proven to establish a case for battery: (1) an act by a defendant; (2) an intent to cause harmful or offensive contact on the part of the defendant; and (3) harmful or offensive contact to the plaintiff.

The Act The act must result in one of two forms of contact. Causing any physical harm or injury to the victim—such as a cut, a burn, or a bullet wound—could constitute battery, but actual injury is not required. Even though there is no apparent bruise following harmful contact, the defendant can still be guilty of battery; occurrence of a physical illness subsequent to the contact may also be actionable. The second type of contact that may constitute battery causes no actual physical harm but is, instead, offensive or insulting to the victim. Examples include spitting in someone's face or offensively touching someone against his or her will.

Touching the person of someone is defined as including not only contacts with the body, but also with anything closely connected with the body, such as clothing or an item carried in the person's hand. For example, a battery may be committed by intentionally knocking a hat off someone's head or knocking a glass out of some-one's hand.

Intent Although the contact must be intended, there is no requirement that the defendant intend to harm or injure the victim. In Tort Law, the intent must be either specific intent—the contact was specifically intended—or general intent—the defendant was substantially certain that the act would cause the contact. The intent element is satisfied in Criminal Law when the act is done with an intent to injure or with criminal negligence—failure to use care to avoid criminal consequences. The intent for criminal law is also present when the defendant's conduct is unlawful even though it does not amount to criminal negligence.

Intent is not negated if the aim of the contact was a joke. As with all torts, however, consent is a defense. Under certain circumstances consent to a battery is assumed. A person who walks in a crowded area impliedly consents to a degree of contact that is inevitable and reasonable. Consent may also be assumed if the parties had a prior relationship unless the victim gave the defendant a previous warning.

There is no requirement that the plaintiff be aware of a battery at the time it is committed. The gist of the action is the lack of consent to contact. It is no defense that the victim was sleeping or unconscious at the time.

Harmful or Offensive Conduct It is not necessary for the defendant's wrongful act to result in direct contact with the victim. It is sufficient if the act sets in motion a force that results in the contact. A defendant who whipped a horse on which a plaintiff was riding, causing the plaintiff to fall and be injured, was found guilty of battery. Provided all other elements of the offense are present, the offense may also be committed by causing the victim to harm himself. A defendant who fails to act when he or she has a duty to do so is guilty—as where a nurse fails to warn a blind patient that he is headed toward an open window, causing him to fall and injure himself.

Aggravated Battery

When a battery is committed with intent to do serious harm or murder, or when it is done with a dangerous weapon, it is described as aggravated. A weapon is considered dangerous whenever the purpose for using it is to cause death or serious harm. State statutes define aggravated battery in various ways—such as assault with intent to kill. Under such statutes, assault means both battery and assault. It is punishable as a felony in all states.


In a civil action for tortious battery, the penalty is damages. A jury determines the amount to be awarded, which in most cases is based on the harm done to the plaintiff. Even though a plaintiff suffers no actual injury, nominal damages (a small sum) may still be awarded on the theory that there has been an invasion of a right. Also, a court may award Punitive Damages aimed at punishing the defendant for the wrongful act.

Criminal battery is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both. If it is considered aggravated the penalties are greater.


n. the actual intentional striking of someone, with intent to harm, or in a "rude and insolent manner" even if the injury is slight. Negligent or careless unintentional contact is not battery no matter how great the harm. Battery is a crime and also the basis for a lawsuit as a civil wrong if there is damage. It is often coupled with "assault" (which does not require actual touching) in "assault and battery." (See: assault>


noun assault, attack, beating, harmful physical contact, injurious force, offensive action, onslaught, unlawful hitting, unlawful striking, unlawful touching
Associated concepts: assault and battery, simple battery



BATTERY. It is proposed to consider, 1. What is a battery; 2. When a battery, may be justified.
     2. - 1. A battery is the unlawful touching the person of another by the aggressor himself, or any other substance put in motion by him. 1 Saund. 29, b. n. 1; Id. 13 & 14, n. 3. It must be either willfully committed, or proceed from want of due care. Str. 596; Hob. 134; Plowd. 19 3 Wend. 391. Hence an injury, be it never so small, done to the person of another, in an angry, spiteful, rude or insolent manner, as by spitting in his face, or any way touching him in anger, or violently jostling him, are batteries in the eye of the law. 1 Hawk. P. C. 263. See 1 Selw. N. P. 33, 4. And any thing attached to the person partakes of its inviolability if, therefore, A strikes a cane in the hands of B, it is a battery. 1 Dall. 1 14 1 Ch. Pr. 37; 1 Penn. R. 380; 1 Hill's R. 46; 4 Wash. C. C. R. 534 . 1 Baldw. R. 600.
     3. - 2. A battery may be justified, 1. on the ground of the parental relation 2. in the exercise of an office; 3. under process of a court of justice or other legal tribunal 4. in aid of an authority in law; and lastly, as a necessary means of defence.
     4. First. As a salutary mode of correction. For example: a parent may correct his child, a master his apprentice, a schoolmaster his scholar; 24 Edw. IV.; Easter, 17, p. 6 and a superior officer, one under his command. Keilw. pl. 120, p. 136 Bull. N. P. 19 Bee, 161; 1 Bay, 3; 14 John. R. 119 15 Mass. 365; and vide Cowp. 173; 15 Mass. 347.
     5. - 2. As a means to preserve the peace; and therefore if the plaintiff assaults or is fighting with another, the defendant may lay hands upon him, and restrain him until his anger is cooled; but he cannot strike him in order to protect 'the party assailed, as he way in self-defence. 2 Roll. Abr. 359, E, pl. 3.
     6. - 3. Watchmen may arrest, and detain in prison for examination, persons walking in the streets by might, whom there is reasonable ground to suspect of felony, although there is no proof of a felony having been committed. 3 Taunt. 14.
     7. - 4. Any person has a right to arrest another to prevent a felony.
     8. - 5. Any one may arrest another upon suspicion of felony, provided a felony has actually been committed and there is reasonable ground for suspecting the person arrested to be the criminal, and that the party making the arrest, himself entertained the suspicion.
     9. - 6. Any private individual may arrest a felon. Hale's P. C. 89.
    10. - 7. It is lawful for every man to lay hands on another to preserve public decorum; as to turn him out of church, and to prevent him from disturbing the congregation or a funeral ceremony. 1 Mod. 168; and see 1 Lev. 196; 2 Keb. 124. But a request to desist should be first made, unless the urgent necessity of the case dispenses with it.
    11. Secondly. A battery may be justified in the exercise of an office. 1. A constable may freshly arrest one who, in, his view, has committed a breach of the peace, and carry him before a magistrate. But if an offence has been committed out of the constable's sight, he cannot arrest, unless it amounts to a felony; 1 Brownl. 198 or a felony is likely to ensue. Cro. Eliz. 375.
    12. - 2. A justice of the peace may generally do all acts which a constable has authority to perform hence he may freshly arrest one who, in his view has broken the peace; or he may order a constable at the moment to take him up. Kielw. 41.
    13. Thirdly. A battery may be justified under the process of a court of justice, or of a magistrate having competent jurisdiction. See 16 Mass. 450; 13 Mass. 342.
    14. Fourthly. A battery may be justified in aid of an authority in law. Every person is empowered to restrain breaches of the peace, by virtue of the authority vested in him by the law.
    15. Lastly. A battery may be justified as a necessary means of defence. 1. Against the plaintiffs assaults in the following instances: In defence of himself, his wife, 3 Salk. 46, his child, and his servant. Ow. 150; sed vide 1 Salk. 407. So, likewise, the wife may justify a battery in defending her husband; Ld. Raym. 62; the child its parent; 3 Salk. 46; and the servant his master. In these situations, the party need not wait until a blow has been given, for then he might come too late, and be disabled from warding off a second stroke, or from protecting the person assailed. Care, however, must be taken, that the battery do not exceed the bounds of necessary defence and protection; for it is only permitted as a means to avert an impending evil, which might otherwise overwhelm the party, and not as a punishment or retaliation for the injurious attempt. Str. 953. The degree of force necessary to repel an assault will naturally depend upon, and be proportioned to, the violence of the assailant; but with this limitation any degree is justifiable. Ld. Raym. 177; 2 Salk. 642.
    16. - 2. A battery may likewise be justified in the necessary defence of one's property; if the plaintiff is in the act of entering peaceably upon the defendant's land, or having entered, is discovered, not committing violence, a request to depart is necessary in the first instance; 2 Salk. 641; and if the plaintiff refuses, the defendant may then, and not till then, gently lay hands upon the plaintiff to remove him from the close and for this purpose may use, if necessary, any degree of force short of striking the plaintiff, as by thrusting him off. Skinn. 228. If the plaintiff resists, the defendant may oppose force to force. 8 T. R. 78. But if the plaintiff is in the act of forcibly entering upon the land, or having entered, is discovered subverting the soil, cutting down a tree or the like, 2 Salk. 641, a previous request is unnecessary, and the defendant may immediately lay hands upon the plaintiff. 8 T. R. 78. A man may justify a battery in defence of his personal property, without a previous request, if another forcibly attempt to take away such property. 2 Salk. 641. Vide Rudeness; Wantonness.

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