Suppose you've been injured in Oklahoma. Maybe a careless driver hit you, or you fell and were hurt on a dangerous property. If you're thinking about bringing a personal injury (PI) insurance claim or lawsuit, take a few minutes to learn about the Oklahoma laws that are likely to impact your case.
We'll explain how long you have to file a lawsuit in court, what happens if you're partly to blame for an accident, where you file your case and more.
Like every state, Oklahoma has enacted a deadline, called a "statute of limitations," that limits your time to file a personal injury lawsuit in court. The limitation clock starts running on the date your claim "accrues." (Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 95.A (2023).) A personal injury claim normally accrues on the date you were injured—provided you were aware of the injury when it happened. If you didn't discover your injury until later, you might have more time to file.
Two years to file. As a general rule, you have two years to file your personal injury lawsuit in court. (Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 95.A.3 (2023).)
One year for intentional torts. If you were injured by intentional misconduct—what the law calls an "intentional tort"—the deadline to file suit is one year. This limitation period applies to claims for:
(Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 95.A.4 (2023).)
Medical malpractice claims. A medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within two years after the later of the date:
(Okla. Stat. tit. 76, § 18 (2023).)
Extending the filing deadline. In a few circumstances, Oklahoma extends the deadline for filing. For example, people who are legally disabled from filing lawsuits by themselves—minors and those suffering from severe mental disabilities—typically get extra time to file. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 96 (2023).) When the person who caused your injury leaves Oklahoma or goes into hiding and can't be served with your lawsuit, the limitation clock is "tolled" (temporarily paused) until they return or stop hiding. (Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 98 (2023).)
What if you miss the deadline? The statute of limitations is a claim killer—that's why it exists. If you try to file your personal injury lawsuit after the limitation period ends, the court will have no choice but to dismiss your case.
Statutes of limitations can be exceptionally difficult to understand and apply. If you're unsure of the deadline to file your personal injury case, don't take a chance on losing your legal claim. Get help from an experienced Oklahoma lawyer right away.
Special rules usually apply when you want to sue Oklahoma or an Oklahoma municipality. Oklahoma law requires that you first give the government notice of your claim. If your claim gets denied, then you're allowed to sue—but you'll need to act quickly.
Not later than one year after the date you're injured, you must give the government written notice of your claim. If your claim is against Oklahoma, you notify the state's Office of Management and Enterprise Services, Risk Management Department, via certified mail, return receipt requested. When you're making a claim against a political subdivision of the state, like a city or county, you must notify the clerk of the governing body. (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 156 (2023).)
Your notice should include all of the information required by Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 156.E (2023). You'll also need to provide the names and addresses of all health care providers who treated you after the date you were injured, along with a medical records authorization for each provider. If you're claiming a loss of income, you should attach documentation to prove the amount.
You can't sue the government unless it denies your claim, in whole or in part. If the government doesn't act on your claim within 90 days after you file your notice, it's deemed to have been denied. (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 157.A (2023).) Once your claim is denied, you've got just 180 days to sue. (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 157.B (2023).)
When you sue the government, the damages you can collect are limited by law. Generally speaking, an injured person can't collect more than $125,000 for injuries suffered in any single occurrence. If you're suing a city or county with a population of 300,000 or more, that limit is $175,000. In medical malpractice cases against certain state-owned hospitals, your damages are limited to $200,000.
Finally, the government's liability to all persons hurt in a single occurrence can't exceed $1,000,000.
(Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 154.A (2023).)
In most personal injury cases, to collect compensation for your injuries (what the law calls "damages") you must prove that the defendant—the party you claim is responsible for your injuries—was negligent. Quite often, the defendant will argue that you, too, were negligent and that your negligence should reduce or eliminate the damages you can recover. This legal defense is called "comparative negligence," and it's available in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma's comparative negligence rule. Oklahoma has adopted a "modified comparative negligence rule." If you're partly to blame for an accident—meaning partly negligent—you can still collect some damages for your injuries. Your percentage share of the negligence reduces your damages by that amount, but only to a point. When you're found to be more than 50% negligent, you can't collect any damages at all. (Okla. Stat. tit. 23, § 13 (2023).)
Example: Oklahoma's comparative negligence rule. Suppose you were shopping in a grocery store. Because you were looking for items on the shelves, you didn't see a broken floor tile in your path. You tripped and fell on the broken tile, injuring your knee and ankle.
You sued the grocery store for negligence. The store responded that your negligence caused you to fall and that you shouldn't get any damages. After a jury trial, the jurors assessed your total damages at $90,000 and found that the store was 80% negligent. But they agreed that you should have paid closer attention to where you were going, and found you 20% negligent. How much of your total damages can you collect?
Because you were 20% to blame, you can collect 80% of your damages: $90,000 x 80% = $72,000. The store's insurer will write you a check for that amount. What would have been the outcome had the jury found you 51% or more negligent? Under Oklahoma's modified comparative negligence rule, you'd collect zero damages.
The Oklahoma court with authority to hear personal injury lawsuits is called the District Court. Oklahoma is divided into 26 judicial districts, each consisting of one or more counties. Every county has a District Court.
Generally, you should file your lawsuit in the District Court where the defendant lives or has its principal place of business. You might be able to choose a different location, and special rules apply when the defendant doesn't live or have an office in Oklahoma. If you're not sure where to file your lawsuit, check with an Oklahoma lawyer.
You start your case by filing a petition with the clerk of the court. The clerk will issue a summons—an order commanding the defendant to appear in court and defend the lawsuit—based on information you provide. When you file, you'll be required to pay the filing fee unless the court waives it.
The contents of your petition will depend on the kind of case you're filing. Be sure to check the law and the court rules so you know what you must (and must not) include. In general, though, your petition will describe, in separately numbered paragraphs:
After you file your lawsuit, you'll need to arrange to have the defendant served with a copy of the petition and the summons. If you don't timely and properly serve a defendant, the court can dismiss them from the lawsuit.
Many states have enacted laws placing limits (called "caps") on personal injury damages. Damages for injuries like pain and suffering and emotional distress—often referred to as "noneconomic damages—are favorite targets. So are punitive damages, which are intended to punish particularly egregious misconduct.
The Oklahoma Constitution prohibits limits on damages in personal injury cases that result in death, except in workers' compensation cases and in cases against the government. (See Okla. Const. § 23-7 (2023).) Oklahoma law used to cap noneconomic damages in most other personal injury cases at $350,000, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that damage limitation to be unconstitutional, so it no longer applies.
Oklahoma does limit punitive damages. The cap depends on how badly the defendant misbehaved. Here are the applicable caps in most cases.
(See Okla. Stat. tit. 23, § 9.1 (2023).)
Punitive damages are rarely awarded in PI cases, so it isn't likely that these caps will impact the value of your case.
While we've covered some of the most basic Oklahoma laws concerning personal injury cases, we've only just scratched the surface. There are many more laws and court rules that might apply, and they can be complex and difficult to understand. Your best chance of success will come from hiring an experienced Oklahoma attorney to handle your case.
If you're ready to move forward with your claim or lawsuit, here's how to find an attorney near you.