While browsing Reddit I came across a video where a person purposefully coughs on another person in an elevator, and then gets forcibly removed from the space.

After watching I wasn't sure if the victim acted appropriately in subduing the perpetrator and removing him from the situation. In a global pandemic the risks of spreading a fatal disease are much greater than in years past, but at the same time I don't know if that makes it ok to drag a man out of an elevator by their hair for pulling down their mask and coughing.

Due to relative harmlessness of a cough, but the risk of harm by spreading disease what is an appropriate level of self defense to an act like this?

  • I don't think you mean "non-intermediate" in the title, which simply doesn't make sense. Do you mean "non-imminent"? Or do you mean something else?
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 23, 2020 at 22:46
  • Whatever word you would use to best describe the dangers of a disease. In this situation the victim wouldn't know the effects for about a week, but poses the risk of loss of life. You can edit the title how you see fit
    – PausePause
    Dec 23, 2020 at 23:20

1 Answer 1


The non-cougher committed an unjustified assault, and could be arrested or sued for his actions. The actions were clearly not the minimal level of force needed to prevent continued assault or to effect an arrest (the dude who entered and coughed clearly is guilty of assault). This is regardless of covid. Instead, the other guy decided to beat on the first punk. The courts might retaliate against the cougher by fining him or sending him to prison: that is what the law is all about (putting the use of force under the control of laws, not individual emotion).

It would be legal to use some degree of force to arrest the guy, and it would be legal to use some degree of force to prevent the guy from continuing with his assault. The puncher was not engaged in self-defense, because there was no credible continuing threat and his response was way over the top. The particular response here, vigilante justice, was disproportionate, and not justified by the circumstances. A police officer might have arrested both of them, had one been present (but police have discretion, so he might have gone with the "you started it" theory). Legally, they were both wrong.

  • Thanks. I figured that both parties were in the wrong, but I wasn't sure if that somehow changed due to the risk of a deadly disease.
    – PausePause
    Dec 22, 2020 at 18:52
  • What an awful world we live in. Sad +1. Dec 24, 2020 at 11:36

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