Who’s Legally Responsible in a Personal Assault Case?

An assault almost always comes as a shock. Whether you’ve been mugged, victimized in a hate crime, or drawn into a verbal dispute that turned violent, you didn’t expect the person who attacked you to violate that most basic rule of civil society. Now you have to deal with an injury – anything from a scrape or a bruise to broken bones, damaged organs, or a concussion – and possibly the loss or damage of personal property.

To make matters worse, injured parties in assault cases very often don’t know where their compensation is coming from. In an accidental injury case you can almost always seek compensation from a person’s homeowners insurance, but these typically have an exclusion that kicks in as soon as the policyholder intentionally harms another person. By definition, then, assaults aren’t covered, and the attacker might not have the assets to cover damages. This leaves many victims suffering physically and emotionally, with little hope of recovering the damages.

A creative approach to personal assault litigationA creative approach to personal assault litigation

We at Andrews, Bernstein, Maranto & Nicotra, PLLC recently litigated a case involving an assault at an Off-Track Betting location in Buffalo, NY. Our client, an elderly man and a regular visitor to the OTB, found himself involved in a confrontation when another customer – well-known for his boisterous behavior and aggressive talk – demanded that our client get out of “his” seat. When our client responded that there were no reserved seats, the other customer pushed him to the ground, an assault that left him with severe injuries.

Based on the gray area of legal liability in personal assault cases, one might have thought that our client had better odds placing a blind bet on a trifecta than trying to recover damages through litigation. We did litigate, though, and won. On top of a six-figure award, we also came away with some interesting insights about liability in personal assault cases.

Personal assault liability: who pays?Personal assault liability: who pays?

  1. The violent offender

 As long as the attacker didn’t have a valid legal excuse for the action – such as the injured party’s consent, the privilege of a police officer making an arrest, or a claim of self-defense or the defense of others – then he or she is liable for injuries, and you may win a case in civil court. (The statute of limitations for intentional acts like assault is one year.) However, as mentioned above, in many cases the defendant will not have the assets to give the victim anything like just compensation.

  1. The offender’s Homeowners Insurance company

 Homeowners Insurance policies generally contain a clause limiting personal injury liability. If you or anyone else on your policy (such as your family members or pets) cause bodily or property damage, that’s covered. Intentional acts, however, are not. In our recent case, we argued before the State Supreme Court that the injuries were the unintentional result of an intentional act. In other words, we argued that the assaulter did not intend to deliver the injuries our client sustained. Any injury from the shove itself would not have been covered by his homeowners insurance policy; but after only 14 minutes of deliberation, a jury agreed that the insurance policy did cover the injuries from the fall, which was the unintended result of the shove. 

  1. The establishment where the assault occurred

 If you were attacked in a public place, like a sidewalk or a park, you might not be able to find another party besides the offender liable. Even if you were assaulted in someone’s home by another guest in that home, or in a place like a supermarket, you may not be able to recover damages beyond what you get from the violent party. However, in some situations the law will assign a business some responsibility for keeping patrons safe from each other, providing security staff or taking measures against rowdy customers. (Failure to do this would be a charge of negligence rather than an intentional action, making the statute of limitations three years.) This was so in our case against OTB. We demonstrated that the perpetrator was known for his frequently unruly outbursts at the OTB. We argued, and the jury agreed, that the OTB had some responsibility to take preventative measures against known rowdy customers like the one in our case – for example, hiring security, delivering discouraging warnings, or even banning the man from the premises. The OTB’s insurance company contributed toward our client’s six-figure award.

Never Settle for Less – Trust Expert Attorneys to Maximize RecoveryNever Settle for Less – Trust Expert Attorneys to Maximize Recovery

It’s very hard to tell what your assault case could be worth – and who should be paying your award. No one lawyer can tell you right away what kind of result you should expect from a case, but if you put your trust in the right firm with the right experience, you can expect attorneys that will counsel you away from deceptive lowball offers from insurance companies, and go to trial if necessary, putting together a creative, evidence-driven case to deliver you all the compensation that the law promises.

At Andrews, Bernstein, Maranto & Nicotra, PLLC, we have six full-time attorneys and one attorney of counsel, as well as a talented support staff of 15. Since 1999, we have focused solely on representing plaintiffs in Western New York personal injury cases, and have built a reputation on countless successes, honest dealing, and care for our clients. If you’ve been the victim of an assault, come and visit us in our office at 420 Franklin Street in Buffalo’s historic Allentown neighborhood. We’ll discuss the particulars of your case and come up with a plan to get you the compensation you deserve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *