Battery and assault:
In virtually every jurisdiction (including Pennsylvania), to make out a case for battery, the plaintiff must show that the aggressor made harmful or offensive contact with the plaintiff’s person, that the aggressor intended to bring about such contact, and that the aggressor’s actions in fact caused the contact.
While harmful contact is easily determined from the specifics of the situation, offensive contact is judged by the objective, ‘reasonable person standard’.
As a prominent Philadelphia law professor explains, "tapping a person on the shoulder is not reasonably ‘offensive’ whereas, tapping someone ‘considerably lower’ would be."
‘Plaintiff’s person’ means in general anything connected to the plaintiff’s body. This would include a hat, a cup in plaintiff’s hand, and on a recent bar exam, even the car in which the plaintiff was sitting! Thus, snatching a book from a person might well constitute a battery.
The causation requirement can also be deceptive. Not only would a thrown projectile which strikes the plaintiff constitute a battery, but ducking to avoid such a projectile, and hitting one’s head would also be actionable. Moreover, no actual damage need occur to bring an action for battery. The offensiveness of a non-harmful contact will support an award of nominal damages.
Assault, briefly, is the creation of a reasonable apprehension of an imminent battery, in the victim. Simple fear is not enough. The aggressor must have a present apparent ability to bring about such contact. In other words, the victim must actually expect to be struck or touched.
Conversely, the fact that the victim was not in the least bit afraid does not bar recovery. Thus, a professional boxer may successfully sue a weakling for assault, even though there was no actual danger of being hurt.
Words are generally not enough to support an action for assault, but words coupled with some act may be. For example, shaking one’s fist and threatening with words might well constitute assault.
Similarly, a conditional threat such as ‘your money or your life’ is also sufficient to support a charge of assault. Like battery, no actual damage need result.