ProfessorMelissa A. Hale
CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff Cullison met a 16 year old girl in a parking lot then invited her to his home for a soda, which she declined. That night, she and her family came to Cullison’s home, surrounded him, and verbally threatened him with bodily harm if he did not leave the girl alone while her father was armed with a holstered revolver. Cullison experienced mental trauma and distress as a result of the incident and sued for assault.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Assault is found where one intends to cause a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact in another.
The elements of the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress are that the defendant: (1) engages in extreme and outrageous conduct (2) which intentionally or recklessly (3) causes (4) severe emotional distress to another.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether threatening language coupled with a holstered pistol rises to the level of assault.
Held. Yes. Assault occurs when one intentionally creates the reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact in another. It is a touching of the mind, if not the body, and as such, the damages which are recoverable are for mental trauma and distress. It is assault to shake a fist under another’s nose, to aim or strike at him with a weapon or to hold it in a threatening position, or to surround him with a display of force. Additionally, the apprehension must be one that would be aroused in the mind of a reasonable person. In this case, a jury could reasonably conclude that the Medleys intended to frighten Cullison by surrounding him in his trailer and verbally threatening him with bodily harm while one of them was armed with a holstered revolver. Accordingly, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment on the assault count.
Discussion. It is important to note that typically words alone do not rise to the level of assault, unless together with acts or circumstances they put the other in a reasonable apprehension of imminent harm. Moreover, the imminence element does not mean harm must be immediate, but that there will be no significant delay in effectuating the harm.