On Sunday, March 27, 2022, millions of people watched as actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock during the Academy Awards live broadcast. Smith went on to win and accept the award for best actor, and the LAPD reported that Rock declined to file a report or press charges against Smith.
Much of the world discussed whether Smith was morally right or wrong to use violence against Rock for joking about the appearance of his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
An important legal discussion should also follow this incident.
What Evidence Does Chris Rock Have?
Injury Claims Without a Criminal Case
At this writing, most observers don’t expect Smith to face criminal charges for hitting Rock. This leads to the question: Can you seek a civil injury claim against someone if they did not face criminal charges for the assault or battery?
The answer is definitely yes.
Criminal and civil cases are separate matters. Criminal cases focus on punishing the offender, while civil cases compensate victims for their losses. While a criminal conviction can serve as evidence in a civil case, your injury lawsuit will not rely on a conviction.
In many situations, a civil case succeeds without a related criminal case. If Chris Rock chose to sue Will Smith, he could prevail even if the Los Angeles prosecutors never file charges. While such a lawsuit might not happen in this case, many victims of assault and battery choose to file suit—and they often win.
Negligent Security Claims
Smith is wealthy, and he can likely afford to pay if Rock filed a case and obtained a judgment for millions of dollars. However, the average assailant is not a famous actor and celebrity, and they likely do not have significant wealth on hand. If you won a judgment for even $20,000 for a battery, the chances are your assailant cannot pay it. Unlike car accident cases, insurance may not cover assault and battery for a defendant who cannot pay.
This does not necessarily mean you are out of luck with an injury claim following an assault, as you might hold other parties liable.
In many situations, assaults happen due to negligent security of an establishment, such as a hotel, bar, or sports arena. Such establishments must maintain adequate security to keep patrons safe from criminal acts like assault. If they fail to provide proper protection, the establishment may need to pay for the victim’s injuries and losses through a premises liability claim.
In the Smith-Rock situation, negligent security seemed an issue. It is difficult to believe that security would let someone storm the stage uninvited while a celebrity presents an award. If a non-famous audience member tried to storm the stage, security certainly would escort them off—possibly in handcuffs.
Security at the Academy Awards is there to protect the celebrities onstage and in the audience, but they seemed to do nothing to protect Rock from Smith’s assault. No matter their reasoning, the security team failed to protect Chris Rock from an attack onstage, which constitutes negligent security.
Proving Negligent Security Cases
Most incidents involving negligent security do not take place on worldwide broadcasts for all to witness. If Rock filed a claim, the broadcast footage could offer convincing evidence of the assault and battery—and of the absent security team failing to protect him. Most victims do not have it this easy.
Instead, you must prove:
- The establishment owed you a duty to provide adequate security
- The establishment failed to provide adequate security
- You suffered injuries from an assault due to the inadequate security
This is difficult to prove, so you must seek help from a personal injury attorney who handles negligent security cases. A lawyer can evaluate your claim to determine whether you have a good case.
If so, your lawyer can seek security camera footage, other videos (perhaps posted online), and eyewitness testimony to prove what happened. They can check for adequate lighting and other safety features in parking lots. They can subpoena the establishment's security plans and determine whether they were reasonable or if it followed them.
They can negotiate with the establishment's insurance company for a settlement. If the insurer balks, your lawyer can press forward with a lawsuit to get you the compensation you deserve. This can hold the business accountable not only for your injuries but prompt it to make sure its failures don't lead to additional assaults like the one you survived. Taking legal action, in other words, can protect other people.
No one should suffer an assault and battery due to negligent security—whether on international television or in a local bar. If you believe you have a case, please contact out to an attorney as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.