The concept of battery exists under both criminal and tort (civil) law. One of the main areas of difference between how criminal and civil legal system determine that an act has taken place lies in the degree to which an intent to commit battery must be established on the part of the charges of the accused. In order to convict a person under criminal law of having committed battery and thereby sentence him or her to legal punishment, it must be demonstrated that the individual began the action with the intention of accomplishing a battery.
Under tort law, by contrast, less rigor is required for establishing civil liability for an act of battery. For example, under Australian tort law, an act of negligence can potentially be proven to have led to an act of battery. United States tort law is not as wide-ranging but still allows a level of latitude by holding that the intention to accomplish the act which ultimately led to harmful or offensive contact can be considered to suffice for a tort of battery. The actual end of bodily harm to the affected individual thus need not be established in the court.
In order to establish the liability of the person being accused of battery 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 battery 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.”
Though the most commonly known meaning of battery torts applies to cases involving some degree of physical harm, actions which do not cause any physical form of harm but involve physical contact and are felt to be offensive on some level may still be considered battery. However, the liability that such actions open the actor up to may well be minimal to the point of not practically warranting the legal fees involved in pursuing it.
A commonly used example of such an instance refers to a person in the course of a gesture touching another person in a way felt to be unreasonably offensive. In such a case, the damages most likely to be awarded under tort law will be nominal, or “in name only,” delivering legal satisfaction without substantive material reward.
In the case of the performance of battery that is felt to be “outrageous,” courts will be more ready to award punitive damages. Unlike in cases of assault and battery pursued under tort law, it will not be necessary to establish that the individual claiming damages was aware of the relevant act during its actual performance