§6.1 Assault – Generally

The Case: Johnson v. Cantrell , No. 01A01-9712-CV-00690, 1999 WL 5083 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 7, 1999).

The Basic Facts: Defendant obtained a restraining order against the plaintiff's employer. Defendant and his wife aggressively questioned the conduct of plaintiff at her place of employment. Plaintiff hyper-ventilated and was told that she had a mini-stroke.

The Bottom Line:

  • "In Tennessee, the tort of assault is defined as 'any act tending to do corporal injury to another, accompanied with such circumstances as denote at the time an intention, coupled with the present ability, of using actual violence against the person.' Thompson v. Williamson County , 965 F. Supp. 1026, 1037 (M.D. Tenn. 1997); Vafaie v. Owens, No. 92C-1642, 1996 WL 502133, at *3 [(Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 6, 1996)]; Huffman v. State, 292 S.W.2d 738, 742 (Tenn. 1956), overruled in part on other grounds by State v. Irvin, 603 S.W.2d 121, 123 (Tenn. 1980). Under this definition, a defendant is not subject to liability for assault unless he or she commits an intentional act creating a reasonable apprehension of imminent physical harm on the part of the plaintiff. See Baker v. Moreland, No. 89-62-II, 1989 WL 89758, at *6 [(Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 9, 1989)] (citing 6A C.J.S. Assault & Battery § 65 (1975))." 1999 WL 5083 at *3.
  • "It is well established that an assault cannot be committed by words alone, no matter how insulting, offensive, or abusive those words might be. See Baker, 1989 WL 89758, at *6 (citing 6A C.J.S. Assault & Battery § 66 (1975)). Rather, the words must be accompanied by an overt act or physical movement causing the plaintiff to reasonably believe that he or she is in imminent physical danger." Id. at *5.

Other Sources of Note: Raines v. Shoney's, Inc., 909 F.Supp. 1070, 1083 (E.D. Tenn. 1995) (threat of future violence was not suggestive of an immediate harm and therefore plaintiff did not allege facts sufficient to maintain an action for assault).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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