Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony displayed one of the most shocking moments in Oscars history.
Towards the end of the ceremony, Oscars host Chris Rock took the stage to present an award and made a joke about the shaved head of Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has publicly struggled with an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. The joke prompted Will Smith to walk on stage and slap Rock in the face before returning to his seat and shouting obscenities at Rock. The conflict broke the internet and spurred much discussion from viewers who wondered whether Rock would press any charges against Will Smith.
In a criminal lawsuit, punishment of the attacker by incarceration, probation, restitution, or other types of punishment is the goal. Rock has already declined to press criminal charges. However, Rock could file a civil lawsuit. So, this got us thinking: What are the civil legal ramifications in Florida from an incident like this?
LEGAL RAMIFICATIONS IN CIVIL COURT
Rock could still file a civil lawsuit against Will Smith for assault and battery. Had this incident happened in Florida, The Florida Statutes would allow him to have 4 years to file a lawsuit if he later finds he has suffered either a physical injury or reputational injury or both.
Assault occurs when somebody intentionally threatens to harm you with the present ability to cause harm. Words are enough to establish a valid threat. The act must be intended to cause fear of imminent harmful or offensive contact. All that matters is that the victim reasonably felt threatened with imminent harm by a person who had the ability to cause the imminent harm. Additionally, the fear of imminent harm that the victim felt must be reasonable for the situation, which may be determined by the Court based on the facts presented.
Battery occurs when somebody (a) actually or intentionally touches or strikes you, against your will, in a harmful or offensive manner or (b) intentionally causes you to suffer an injury. The intentional contact does not have to be directly with the attacker’s own body, but it can be any object set in motion by the attacker. For example, throwing a rock or spitting on someone are both considered battery. Battery focuses on actual physical contact and harm, as opposed to than assault, which focuses on your fear of being hurt. However, one can see how these two can go together, but they don’t have to.
Example: By trying to intimidate you after an argument, an attacker throws a rock at you to scare you, and you see the rock being thrown at you and are in fear of being hit, the attacker would be liable for assault even if the rock misses you. If the rock actually hits you, the assault also becomes a battery.
Will Smith/Chris Rock hypothetical: Chris Rock would have a valid claim for assault and battery, since he was slapped in the face. But let’s imagine for a second Will Smith did not slap rock, and instead, he only shouted expletives at Chris Rock from his seat. Would this be assault? We think this might be a stretch, because what is said by Smith is not a threat of imminent harm to Chris Rock and was not intended to cause apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact.
Compensatory Damages for Assault/Battery
You may bring civil charges against the person who harmed you for damages sustained due to you injuries. If you succeed in your civil case, you may be awarded compensatory damages from the defendant. Compensatory damages are meant to repay the plaintiff for wrongs done to him or her by the defendant and to restore whatever was lost. The court will consider the amount of medical costs, treatments costs (therapy), lost wages, loss of household services, the severity of the injury, pain and sufferings, emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and other factors when determining the amount of compensation due to the victim.
Punitive Damages for Assault/Battery
Separate from compensatory damages, you can also be awarded punitive damages by the judge or jury, which is money compensation greater than the amount of losses suffered, solely intended to punish the defendant (financially) and to deter them from committing similar acts in the future. These damages are awarded by the judge or jury at their discretion, based on the facts of the case.
Could Chris Rock sue Will Smith for Public Defamation and Humiliation?
Many wondered whether Chris rock could sue Will Smith for public defamation due to the embarrassment he may have suffered by being slapped on live TV that was being aired around the world. However, a defamation claim requires there to be a published false statement to a third party about the plaintiff which damages the plaintiff in some way. In this Oscars scenario, Defamation is not a legal option because there are no statements being made, but rather an assault and battery. Nonetheless, this must have been a humiliating moment for Chris Rock. As discussed above with compensatory damages awarded for assault and battery, the court considers humiliation and public embarrassment when awarding damages for assault and battery.