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Assaulted While Texting?

Friday has finally arrived. What better way to spend the evening than a date night with family or friends to see a movie. After arriving early to get good seats and mortgaging your house to buy a few snacks, you settle in to be lost in another world for the next couple of hours. Suddenly, you are jarred back to reality by the bright light of a cell phone some thoughtless patron has illuminated near you. While he checks his texts, you try in vain to ignore the light and focus on the movie. Should you ask him to put his phone away or suffer in silence? That was the dilemma that faced 54 year-old Brenda Goodwin this past April in Grapevine, Texas.

Both Dale Fout and Brenda Goodwin are 54 years old and they attended the same movie on a weekday in April and sat one row apart. They had never met before. Fout is a 220 pound guy. He describes himself as a “pretty big guy. I’m broad. I’m not fat, but I used to play football.” Goodwin is a 136-pound skin care specialist.

Goodwin claims that Fout pulled his phone out and was looking at it. She kept expecting him to put it away, but when he didn’t, she reached over and “tapped” him on the shoulder. “I was only trying to get his attention,” Goodwin said.

Fout responded, “Don’t ever touch me.” He stood and said, “I am charging you with assault,” and he dashed out of the theater.

Fout disagrees with Goodwin’s claims. Fout states, “I got a text and I responded to it because it was something important. It was something that was a deadline situation, OK. I held it against my chest purposely where I could barely see it. She said something. I couldn’t make it out. That’s why I turned. She probably said something like, ‘Get off your phone.’ I turned and she pushed. She just happened to push my neck at the time my neck was in an awkward position. Kinda like having a little fender bender, and you get a little whiplash in your neck.”

The police were called. Officer Emily Hays wrote in her report, “Fout advised he had been assaulted and his neck was in pain. He said a female sitting behind him grabbed him by the shoulder because he was texting during the movie.”

Goodwin told police that she tapped him on the shoulder with one finger to ask him to stop texting. Fout stated he was offended by the contact and desires prosecution. Goodwin was issued a citation for assault by contact.

The police have said that they are in the middle when it comes to these situations. “Assault by contact is usually not something like this. It’s usually a shove,” Lt. Todd Dearing said. “We stay neutral in these things. That’s what the courts are for.”

What is Assault?

The law says, “A person commits an offense if the person…intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.”

Jeff Bellin, SMU assistant professor of law, says that a tap is not an assault but that a shove may be. “It would be a jury question, but I think most people would agree that tapping someone on the shoulder, even if you don’t know them, is normal. We expect that kind of interaction in our everyday lives.”

Fout’s injury would be important according to Goodwin. “If he hurt his neck, that’s probably because of the way he whipped around.” Goodwin lives in Virginia, so she paid the $260 fine to avoid having to return to fight the charge.

Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer

Proving personal injury can be complicated. Not all injuries are personal injury claim. If you have suffered severe injury from the negligence of another person, contact a personal injury lawyer for more information.

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