August 17, 2017

After his friend assaulted him, a man sued for damages, claiming intentional assault and battery. The Court decided that for the man’s claim to succeed, it wasn’t necessary for him to prove financial loss due to his injuries. The case is an interesting commentary on the laws relating to assault and battery – it’s now easier for a victim of assault to successfully sue the person who assaulted them.

Personal Injury: Can I sue for Assault?

Background – Can I sue for personal injury arising from assault and battery?

The man and his friend had been friends for about 24 years. The man had suffered a brain injury in a car accident about 11 years prior, causing him mental and physical impairment.

The friend visited the man’s home one night and the two got into an argument after they had been drinking alcohol. The man asked the friend to leave but the friend refused. Instead, he “trashed” the man’s home and destroyed his laptop computer.

When the man tried to salvage his computer, the friend pushed him into a wall twice, injuring the man’s head, shoulders and back and leaving a hole in the wall.

The man suffered serious bruising, cuts and scrapes. He went to see a doctor. He felt unsafe in his home and became withdrawn. Eventually he sought psychological counselling.

The man made a minor civil claim against the friend for personal injuries arising from intentional assault and battery. The man read a statement to the Court but didn’t provide any medical evidence to prove his injuries (although he did produce photographs that showed the injuries and the damage to the wall). Even so, he was successful in his claim because the friend simply denied the claim and then failed to appear in Court.

In his absence, the Court awarded judgement in favour of the man.

The man was claiming $25,000 but the Court awarded him just $2,500 to cover costs including repair to the wall and computer. These costs are known as “economic loss” because they relate to the man’s out-of-pocket expenses.

The Court refused to award damages for pain and suffering or for any reduction in his ability to do things for himself and live his normal life. These things are categorised as “non-economic loss” and are more difficult to measure than economic loss.

The Court said that the laws relating to non-economic loss said that damages could only be awarded if the man’s ability to live a normal life was significantly impaired for seven days or if medical expenses of at least $3,822 had been incurred in connection with the injury.

The Court said that the man had not:

  • Shown that his normal living had been impaired for seven days.
  • Provided any medical evidence to the Court to support his claim.
  • Proven that he had spent at least $3,822 on medical expenses.

This meant that the man’s claim for damages for non-economic loss couldn’t succeed. He could only succeed in claiming damages for economic loss.

The man appealed this decision to the District Court.


On appeal, the Court said that the trial court shouldn’t have relied on the laws dealing with non-economic loss because those laws related to damages for personal injury. They did not apply to damages caused by intentional assault and battery.

It said that proof of damage isn’t essential to prove assault and battery.

The Court found that it would have taken the man at least a few weeks to heal after the assault. He also needed regular counselling sessions for up to a year and a half afterwards.

Because there wasn’t enough evidence to make any further conclusions about the man’s medical condition, the Court decided that the man should receive $1,500 in general damages for pain, suffering and physical and emotional inconvenience.

In addition, it awarded $400 for breach of friendship and trust and mental distress. There was an award of $600 because the actions of the friend were unprovoked and protracted. This was to punish the friend for his actions (“exemplary” damages).

These amounts (as well as a few other costs) were added to the $2,500 that had been previously awarded to the man for economic loss. The total amount awarded to the man was $5,235.

What does it mean?

This case confirms that a person can sue someone for intentional assault and battery and secure an award of general damages. This is because the laws covering civil claims do not apply to “intentional” assault and battery cases.

This case concerned a civil court action, which in essence means that it wasn’t a criminal action. In other words, it wasn’t necessary to wait until charges were laid against the friend (by the police) before the man decided to commence legal action for assault and battery.

A criminal action for assault and battery would proceed separately from the civil action. However, if the criminal charges have been heard and the person found guilty, that finding may be used in the civil case as a reason for the Court to find in favour of the plaintiff.

The main thing to remember is that the criminal case will punish the defendant for the crime. It won’t compensate the plaintiff for their loss, either economic or non-economic. The plaintiff would have to make a claim for victims of crime compensation or make a civil claim against the defendant for damages (as the man in this case did).

The good news for people who have been victims of assault is that the Court in this case has confirmed that there is a good opportunity to make civil claims for general damages resulting from an intentional act.

If you are considering making a civil claim for damages, contact us today for a free first interview. We have an outstanding team of civil litigation and personal injury lawyers and we can assist with your legal needs.

Murn v Beesley [2017] SADC 46 (2 May 2017)