Charges of assault and battery can be pursued in systems, such as the United States, under both criminal and tort law. An essential difference between the treatments accorded to the offense in the two fields can be found in the fact that criminal law systems tend to prosecute assault and battery as a single offense, while assault and battery under tort law are considered separately.
A tort of assault requires awareness of its occurrence at the time that it is alleged to have taken place. It essentially consists of an action which leads to an individual fearing that she or he is to be imminently made the target of a battery. The apprehension felt on the part of the threatened individual, if it was arrived at reasonably, is the deciding factor in arriving at a conclusion under tort law that an assault took place, while the actual ability of the perpetrator of the assault to have accomplished its threatened actions does not necessarily have to be present.
In order to establish the liability of the person being accused of assault under tort law, it must be demonstrated that he or she lacked the "privilege" to commit such actions. Examples of instances in which an action which under other circumstances might be considered an assault can include the voluntary participation in violent or rough physical activities, the exercising of rights to defend oneself, one's property or others, and enforcement of laws or discipline by recognized authority figures, such as parents toward children or law-enforcement officers toward criminals, all of which may still be considered assault under tort law if they can be shown to have exceeded what are judged under the applicable system of law to have been "reasonable limits."
The components that must be identified in an action in order for it to be defined as an assault under tort law include a number of qualifications. These include: a threat to apply physical force to another person in order to cause harm, a context which causes the purported object of the assault to reasonably expect immediate physical danger and the apprehension on the part of the assault's victim that the perpetrator possesses the ability to make good on his or her threat at that point.
An accusation of assault made under tort law is considered an intentional tort, which is pursued to establish the intent of the individual being considered for liability. In addition to having been pursued as an intentional action by the defendant, an assault which may be considered under tort law is one which can be reasonably understood as having offered imminent action. The language of "imminence" does not definitively or concretely describe the circumstances under which such a threat might be thought to be near, but for general purposes can be said to be one in which the target of the assault did not have adequate opportunity to respond to the threat.
It also does not require that the actual power to cause harm or offense existed, only that in context it could be reasonably assumed to exist