Can You Sue Someone for Hitting You in California?

June 23, 2022 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

Can You Sue Someone for Hitting You in California?

Sometimes the best way to get somebody back for hitting you isn’t by hitting them harder, it’s by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Especially if you sustain injuries that require medical treatment, pursuing damages for civil assault in California might be the most appropriate course of action. We understand that not everybody wants to go to court for a bar fight, but somebody has to help those who do.

If you were assaulted and need a lawyer, the personal injury attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark have the necessary knowledge to walk you through your claim. We will help you gather evidence, organize the facts, and even represent you in a lawsuit. Keep reading to get a better understanding of whether or not you need legal representation. 

Can You Sue Someone for Assault?

If somebody hits you in California, you may be eligible to recover civil damages from them. However, there are exceptions based on the context of an altercation and how you respond to the initial hit. Understanding the laws and rules surrounding assault in California can help you get the benefits you are entitled to if you’ve been injured by another person.

You will want to make sure you have a well-developed lawsuit that is backed with strong evidence. Follow our steps of a personal injury lawsuit for the best outcome. 

When Am I Not Allowed to Sue?

Determining when you are eligible to sue somebody for hitting you is relatively simple. If you are the aggressor—meaning you hit them first—you will not be able to file a lawsuit. This is true regardless of what an individual says to provoke you. Unless you can prove that the words they said or their physical actions rationally implied immediate harm and you were acting in self-defense, you have no legal grounds to hit someone for their words. 

Even if you strike first and they hit you back, you cannot press charges as long as they acted within the constraints of self-defense. Someone can press charges in a fight if you were the aggressor. 

Additionally, you will likely not be able to recover damages if somebody hits you and you retaliate with more force than necessary to stop the harm. If somebody punches you by surprise and you use a weapon on them or escalate the altercation beyond fending them off, you will lose your ground to file a personal injury claim. You could also potentially put yourself in legal trouble if you retaliate with too much force.

What If I Hit Someone Back?

One of the most commonly misunderstood areas of the law is self-defense. When it comes to physical altercations, there are two conditions that must be satisfied when claiming self-defense:

  • The defendant must be able to show a reasonable belief that they were under immediate threat of injury.
  • The defendant must only use reasonable and proportionate force to deter the threat.

Proving reasonable belief can be very difficult, especially when another person is intimidating. You may be afraid that you are going to be hurt because an individual is speaking in ways to provoke you. 

Most of the time, words alone do not count as imminent threat, and if you hit first, you will still be the liable aggressor in an altercation. Even if somebody claims they are going to “beat you up” or engages in “fighting words,” you are not legally allowed to hit them.

If the individual continues to coax you into a fight and says something giving permission to hit them, such as “let’s go fight outside,” this may be grounds to argue that it was a consensual fight. A consensual fight might protect you from charges, but it will also take away your ability to press charges against the other individual. Not to mention, if you go beyond the reasonable actions of a consensual fight and/or cannot prove that both parties assumed the appropriate risk, you may still be vulnerable to an assault charge. You should also make sure you do not misinterpret another person’s provocation efforts as consent. 

Beyond reasonable belief, if you are truly acting in self-defense, you may only use proportionate force in an effort to stop the assault from occurring. This means that if someone begins punching you, you can punch them back to stop them. You will have no legal defense if they punch you and you use a weapon. You are also unable to claim self-defense if they run away and you chase them—even if they hit you before leaving. 

Acting in self-defense is meant to prevent further harm, not cause it. If you are attacked and act in true self-defense, you can likely still recover damages from an assault charge. If you go beyond the limits of self-defense, you will not be able to pursue damages and may even be sued by the other party. 

California Civil and Criminal Charges for Punching Someone

After a fight, there are two types of charges those involved may face: civil and criminal. Civil charges are between individuals and often involve a personal injury lawsuit of some kind. When we discuss recovering damages from the aggressor, we are referring to the money you can make from a civil lawsuit for assault. 

Criminal charges come from the court and are counted as crimes against the state. If the accused party is guilty of assault or battery, punishment for criminal charges include fines and imprisonment. Assault is the intentional attempt to harm another person, even if no harm occurred. Battery refers to intentional hits sustained by the victim. 

The courts handle civil and criminal cases separately, meaning that you can still recover compensation even if the aggressor is not found guilty of criminal charges. You may even be able to pursue civil charges from a third party if an employee’s actions led to the fight. 

When Is it Legal to Punch Someone in California?

At this point you may be asking yourself, when can I punch someone in the face? Believe it or not, there are certain situations when it’s legal to hit another person first. Typically, you won’t get in trouble for hitting someone if they have assumed the risk of being punched. This means you are only legally allowed to hit someone in the face if they are expecting it. The most obvious examples of “assumption of risk” are consensual fights and sports competitions.

In consensual fights, both parties understand that they may be hit, and therefore enter an agreement that they will not press charges if injured in the bout. These are pretty straightforward and rarely require legal involvement. 

In sports, the law is slightly more complicated. In ice hockey, for example, fighting is part of the game—but it must be done in a particular way. The assumption of risk in hockey acknowledges that you might get punched in the face during a legal hockey fight. If the fight goes too far beyond these injuries, however, the aggressor may still be liable for assault charges. 

Punching is fine, but if one player hits the other in the head with a hockey stick and knocks them unconscious, this goes beyond the risk the player initially agreed to. 

Possible Damages for Being Punched

Determining the amount of compensation a victim may receive can be difficult in an assault case. There are not as many evident damages as in other personal injury accidents. The chances of receiving benefits will increase if the person who was hit had to go to the hospital and if the accident could be covered by some form of insurance. 

Victims could be covered for both economic and non-economic damages. This includes concrete costs, such as medical expenses, and more abstract costs, such as emotional pain and suffering. 

How Much Can You Sue for If Someone Punches You?

When determining how much money you can sue someone for in an assault case, our injury attorneys will consider the following factors:

  • Cost of medical bills
  • Defendant’s insurance
  • Injury severity
  • Plaintiff’s injury treatment
  • Location of the altercation
  • Any damage to personal property (smashed windows, slashed tires, etc.)

An experienced personal injury attorney will also take into account the future expenses associated with the assault. If you have an increased chance of dealing with other medical issues, are limited by a disability as a result of the fight, or have lasting emotional trauma that damages your quality of life, that should be factored into your settlement. 

The average settlement for assault and battery cases varies greatly depending on the circumstances. For minor cases that don’t involve insurance, the victim could be limited to tens of thousands of dollars. In severe cases involving more prominent parties and comprehensive insurance, the injured person could recover over a million dollars. 

As a case develops, injury attorneys will be able to get a better idea about how much money could be available in the assault case.

What If the Other Person Does Not Have Insurance?

If the individual who punched you does not have insurance, you may not be able to recover significant damages. Still, try your best to get the necessary contact information from the other party and any witnesses if you are planning to press charges. Depending on the situation, this may require the help of law enforcement. 

Chain | Cohn | Clark Can Help With Your Personal Injury Lawsuit

Our Bakersfield personal injury lawyers have spent decades representing residents in Kern County and the surrounding area. We know what a solid assault and battery case looks like, and can help you recover compensation if you were hit by another person. 

Do not hesitate to contact us for a free case evaluation so you can get started on the road to personal injury damages.