In tort law, assault is the tort of physically threatening bodily harm against another individual through any means. There is no need to actually make physical contact, which is the seperate tort of battery. In addition, the tort is only actionable if actual damages are suffered. This is rare, but possible. The minimum damage is psychological harm, but a tortfeasor in assault is also responsible for any likely injury that results from the assault. For example, if the victim trips and falls while running away from a person brandishing a weapon, the tortfeasor is responsible for the resulting damages as this is a foreseeable consequence of the tortfeasor's actions.
In criminal law, assault is a crime. It's elements are threatening or actually causing physical contact or harm to the victim. The de minimus for assault is very low. For example, shaking your fist at someone constitutes assault. As such, there are usually several degrees of assault, such as:
- Common assault;
- Assault with a deadly weapon;
- Assault causing bodily harm;
- Aggravated assault;
- Sexual assault.
For example, shoving someone in a bar fight probably would only constitute common assault and carry a minimum penalty. However, deliberately beating someone with your fists would constitute aggravated assault, which is usually a felony carrying a substantial penalty.
Another, possibly the most common, form of assault is referred to as simple assault. It is called thus because a person who is convicted of simple assault can be charged under to a vast range of circumstances. It can be considered anything from simple fistfights to severely injuring weapons trauma. If the injury is severe enough, it would then be classified as aggravated assault.