Massachusetts Appeals Court Clarifies Definition of “Bodily Injury” in Assault and Battery Statute

The Massachusetts Appeals Court offered guidance today to juries who attempt to determine if assault victims are hurt enough to satisfy the “bodily injury” element of the assault and battery statute.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Ryan

The victim in this case is a man in his 80s.  He met the defendant in 2007 and what started as a dating relationship evolved into a dysfunctional friendship.  The defendant would often stay at the victim’s home for extended periods of time.  For a little more than a year, the victim began to notice unauthorized withdrawals on his debit card statements (which ultimately totaled a few thousand dollars).  The victim confronted the defendant, and she acknowledged using his card without his permission.  In December of 2014, the victim again asked the defendant about money that had gone missing from his bank account.  In response, the defendant struck the victim from behind with a “tremendous” amount of force that caused him to fall to the hardwood floor.  The victim was in “great pain” and felt burning sensations in his hip and his lower back.  He was treated at the hospital for two or three hours and diagnosed with a hip contusion and an elbow abrasion.  The medical staff at the hospital prescribed pain medication to the victim.  Two witnesses at the defendant’s trial testified that the victim seemed to be in a lot of pain after the attack, was limping a lot, seemed to be deteriorating, and appeared to be injured.  The victim began to get better several weeks after the attack.  A Marlboro District Court jury convicted the defendant of: assault and battery on an elderly person causing bodily injury; and larceny over $250 from an elderly person.

On appeal, the defendant argued the trial evidence did not establish the victim’s injuries satisfied the “bodily injury” standard enumerated in the statute.  The Appeals Court pointed out there are three levels of assault and battery in Massachusetts – an A&B with no injury; an A&B causing bodily injury; and an A&B causing serious bodily injury.  As you would expect, the penalties become more harsh as the victim is more seriously injured.  “Bodily injury” is defined as a substantial impairment of the physical condition, which can include a burn, a bone’s fracture, a subdural hematoma, an injury to an internal organ, or any injury that results from repeated harm to a bodily function or organ (including skin).  The statute specifically states the list of illustrative injuries does not include all possible injuries.  The Court considered the plain language of the statute to conclude a “substantial impairment” includes an injury that significantly or considerably compromises the usual functioning of a body part.  In this case, the victim’s hip injury caused him pain and hampered his mobility for a few weeks, which resulted in him walking very slowly.  The Appeals Court concluded the injuries sustained by the victim here were sufficient to establish an assault and battery causing bodily injury, and the defendant’s conviction was accordingly affirmed.