As you may have heard, actor/rapper Will Smith smacked comedian/actor Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars after Mr. Rock made a joke referring to Mr. Smith’s wife’s bald head. Many news organizations reported this event as a “assault.”
However, in the civil (as opposed to criminal) context, there are, among potentially others, two distinct causes of action that may arise from this incident: (1) “battery” and (2) “assault.”
Under New York law:The “Oscar slap,” of course, occurred in California. The applicable law of that jurisdiction, and how it might apply to these facts, is beyond the scope of this blog post.
- “Battery” occurs when a person intentionally touches another person, without that person’s consent, and causes an offensive bodily contact, and is liable for all damages resulting from that act. N.Y. Pattern Jury Instructions (Civil) 3:3.
- “Assault” is an unjustifiable threat of force against plaintiff, made with the intention to arouse apprehension, creating a reasonable apprehension of immediate physical harm, and the apparent present ability by defendant to effectuate the threat. 14 N.Y.Prac., New York Law of Torts § 1:3.
Applying these definitions, based on the video, it could be (easily) argued that Smith’s making contact, by use of his hand, with Rock’s face, constituted battery; and that the lead-up (Smith’s suddenly, and rapidly, approaching Rock in an aggressive posture) constituted assault, under New York law.
In the (likely) event that Mr. Rock would be able to prove liability, the next question would be what, if any, damages he would be able to recover. These may include compensation for medical bills, non-economic damages (“pain & suffering”), lost wages (unlikely on these facts), and punitive damages.
|↩1||The “Oscar slap,” of course, occurred in California. The applicable law of that jurisdiction, and how it might apply to these facts, is beyond the scope of this blog post.|