Personal injury lawsuits refer to disputes that occur when someone is harmed as a result of an accident or a dangerous condition. In these cases, another person is held liable for the damage that has been done. Automobile collisions, slip-and-fall accidents, incidents caused by defective items, workplace-related accidents and diseases, and medical malpractice are the most common forms of personal injury in Oklahoma.
In fact, traffic accident figures from the state’s Department of Public Safety revealed an alarming increase in car crash fatalities from 2019 to 2021. The Oklahoma Department of Labor, through its Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses program, also found that the private-sector workforce had 18,900 cases of work-related injury and illness in 2020.
When pursuing a personal injury case, it is crucial for victims to know the legal options available to them. In this regard, this article discusses some of the state's personal injury laws — including those related to statutes of limitations and the types of damages that can be recovered — as well as resources that can help plaintiffs make informed decisions.
Automobile Accident Laws in Oklahoma
Motor vehicle accidents remain one of the leading causes of injuries, hospitalizations, and fatalities in the state. According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, more than 66,000 crashes were logged throughout the state in 2021. These resulted in 30,195 injuries and 762 deaths. This horrifying number of fatalities shows a significant increase from the deaths reported in 2019 and 2020.
Oklahoma has a fault insurance system that allows victims of car accidents to sue the drivers who caused their injuries to receive compensation for their hospital expenses, car repair costs, missed earnings, pain and suffering, and other kinds of losses. For this reason, state authorities require all motor vehicle owners and operators to obtain the following minimum liability coverage:
$25,000 in bodily injury protection per person.
$50,000 in accident coverage.
$25,000 in property damage protection.
Dram Shop Liability in Oklahoma
A dram shop refers to any establishment that serves or sells alcoholic drinks, such as restaurants, bars, liquor stores, and breweries. Oklahoma legislators have enacted a dram shop liability law to hold businesses accountable for furnishing alcohol to the following:
Patrons who were obviously intoxicated and caused an accident that led to damages.
Buyers under the legal drinking age who caused a drunk driving accident resulting in property damage or the injury of a third party.
In these instances, the victims — not the impaired driver — may file a lawsuit against the establishment to secure financial compensation for the losses they have incurred. To prove a dram shop liability claim in the state, a plaintiff must exhibit that the commercial establishment willfully and negligently overserved alcohol to an intoxicated person. They must also establish that the said action was a direct cause of the injuries or damages they suffered.
Oklahoma's Product Liability Laws
Product liability is the legal obligation that manufacturers and sellers bear when their products cause injury or damage to consumers. Individuals who have been hurt by defective or hazardous products may hold the responsible parties accountable in order to receive the compensation they require for their recovery. In 2022, for example, an Oklahoman filed a personal injury lawsuit against Daily Harvest. She asserted that she was hospitalized after consuming the company's "French Lentil + Leek Crumbles," which she claimed caused her gallbladder to be removed. To win her case, she — like all plaintiffs in a product liability lawsuit — needed to prove that:
The product was defective.
The problem existed when the item was no longer under the control of the manufacturer.
The defect caused the injury.
A product fault can manifest itself in a variety of ways, which is why consumers should have access to helpful information that will assist them in detecting potential dangers. The table below describes the three types of product defects covered by the state's product liability statutes.
Type of Product Defect
This occurs when an item is incorrectly manufactured or assembled.
A chair with a missing screw
This occurs when a product is made correctly but is inherently hazardous.
A kid's toy with small parts that can be easily swallowed
This involves incorrect or inadequate warnings or instructions.
A prescription medication that causes negative effects if not taken properly
Oklahoma's Premises Liability Laws
State law defines premises liability as a property owner's responsibility to keep their residence, workplace, commercial establishment, or land properly maintained to avoid accidents that would injure a guest, employee, or trespasser. An owner must keep their property free of hazards, such as broken floor tiles, wet floors, and unstable railings, and provide adequate warning of any potential dangers that exist.
Individuals harmed by accidents on another person's property due to the negligence of the owner have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit. In Oklahoma, slips and falls and swimming pool mishaps are two of the most common accidents leading to a premises liability lawsuit.
Oklahoma's Dog Bite Laws
While dogs are considered man's best friend, some of them are capable of biting and inflicting injury. Every year, more than four million people, mostly children and senior citizens, are bitten by dogs. States have adopted dog bite laws to ensure victims are protected and receive the compensation they deserve. In Oklahoma, statutory strict liability is in effect, which means a dog owner will be held liable for the entire amount of any losses incurred if their pet bites or injures someone who is legally on their property.
Plaintiffs do not necessarily need to prove negligence or intent in order to establish legal liability in dog bite cases. However, if a victim or trespasser is attacked after provoking a dog, the owner won't be responsible for the damages sustained. Meanwhile, Section 4-42.3 of the state legislation adds a rather unusual exemption: the dog bite law does not apply to cities, towns, or rural areas without city or village U.S. mail delivery services.
Additionally, Oklahoma does not follow the one bite rule, which is being enforced in other jurisdictions. Under this law, an owner must pay damages to the victim regardless of whether they were aware or should have known that their dog was likely to behave in a dangerous or harmful manner.
Medical Malpractice Laws in Oklahoma
Oklahoma recognizes the legal rights of individuals who have been injured due to the misconduct or carelessness of healthcare providers, such as hospitals and medical professionals. Under state law, an injured individual must establish these crucial elements for a successful medical malpractice case:
A healthcare provider-patient relationship was present.
The healthcare provider owed them a duty of care.
The healthcare provider breached the duty through negligent or poor care.
The healthcare provider's actions caused their injury or death.
There are jurisdictions in the country that require plaintiffs filing a medical malpractice lawsuit to also provide an affidavit of merit, a document showing a medical expert's testimony that the claim is valid. However, in 2017, Oklahoma's Supreme Court ruled in the case John v. Saint Francis Hospital, Inc. that this requirement is unconstitutional.
Because medical malpractice cases are inherently complicated, a patient or victim should seek help from a competent personal injury lawyer to understand the particular laws and procedures that apply to their specific situations.
Workers' Compensation Laws in Oklahoma
The state's workers' compensation laws safeguard employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses while fulfilling their job responsibilities. These rules are enforced to ensure that workers get the care and financial support they need to recover from their losses.
In Oklahoma, employers are mandated by law to obtain workers' compensation insurance. When an employee is harmed as a result of a workplace accident or exposure to dangerous working conditions, they have the right to file a claim for benefits under their company's insurance policy. They may be eligible for hospital bill reimbursement, wage replacement for temporary or permanent disability (whether full or partial), and rehabilitation assistance. Through the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission's workers' compensation verification webpage, an employee can confirm their employer's coverage.
To ensure that compensation will be obtained, an injured worker must disclose their injury to their employer in writing within 30 days of the incident. They should then seek medical attention from a healthcare practitioner approved by their company or its insurance carrier.
The state has also implemented an administrative system for workers' compensation, which means claims disputes are handled through OWCC. The agency regulates the claims process, establishes benefit rules, and addresses any issues that may arise.
Oklahoma Business Liability Insurance Requirements
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are more than 362,000 small businesses in Oklahoma that collectively employ over 51% of the state's total workforce. All enterprises in the state, including these small businesses, are mandated to have workers' compensation insurance. They must also purchase commercial auto insurance if they use a vehicle for business purposes.
As stated in the previous section, workers' compensation insurance provides coverage for employee injuries or illnesses that occur on the job. Meanwhile, commercial car insurance offers coverage for liability arising from crashes involving business-owned vehicles. Under state law, all commercial auto policies should have a minimum liability limit of $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident for bodily injury, and $25,000 for property damage.
One type of protection plan that businesses are not required to carry is general liability insurance. However, given the fault system governing personal injury cases and allowing plaintiffs to sue businesses for economic and non-economic damages, it is wise for a company to purchase a business liability policy to protect it from financial losses and legal expenses in case it faces a personal injury claim or lawsuit.
How Much Can Someone Sue for an Injury in Oklahoma?
It is difficult to estimate the compensation a plaintiff may receive in a personal injury lawsuit given the extensive nature of this legal field. For one, personal injury cases are classified based on how they come about, including motor vehicle accidents, slips and falls, animal attacks, defective products, and medical malpractice. Additionally, the compensation one can obtain depends on the actual damages involved.
Economic and non-economic damages, jointly called compensatory damages, are intended to repay victims for the actual harm they endured. They cover losses such as hospital bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. Punitive damages, meanwhile, are only granted in particular circumstances and are meant to penalize an offender and discourage future bad behavior if their conduct that caused an accident was excessively negligent.
Plaintiffs in the state should know that there is no cap on the amount of economic damages that they can recover. The state also prevents non-economic damages from being capped in wrongful death cases. Additionally, the Supreme Court declared in 2019 that limiting the non-economic damages a plaintiff can obtain in personal injury lawsuits is unconstitutional.
Another factor that can affect a case’s value is the modified comparative fault rule. In line with this system, a court must assess each party's degree of blame in the accident that led to the injury and assign them a percentage of liability. The extent of the plaintiff's responsibility will subsequently reduce their damages. If they are judged to be less than 50% liable, they may obtain damages with their proportion of fault deducted. However, if they are found to be 50% or more at fault for the accident, they cannot seek any amount of compensation from the other parties involved. This means if a claimant in a vehicular accident lawsuit is awarded $130,000 in damages but is found to be 30% at fault for the collision, they will only receive 70% of the total award, or $91,000.
The Statute of Limitations in Oklahoma
Locals in Oklahoma harmed in accidents have two years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit seeking financial compensation under the state's personal injury statute of limitations. This is applicable to an array of cases, including those involving motor vehicle crashes, slip-and-fall accidents, animal attacks, defective products, and medical malpractice. In medical malpractice suits, however, the clock only starts running from the date the damage was or should have been determined.
The two-year deadline is also applicable to wrongful death suits, with the timeframe beginning when the cause of death becomes known.
Because different situations may have varying statutes of limitations, it is crucial for victims to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to understand which one applies to their case and if exceptions may apply.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in Oklahoma
As established in the previous sections, individuals who have suffered a personal injury have grounds to file a lawsuit against the responsible parties. Here are some useful resources they can utilize to help them navigate the legal system:
LASO is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income individuals and families throughout Oklahoma. It has 18 locations across the state, and its team of lawyers is dedicated to assisting residents in navigating legal processes and protecting their rights. Personal injury victims can read the Frequently Asked Questions page to learn more about LASO's services. They can also contact 1-888-534-5243 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.
The Oklahoma Bar Association provides various resources to victims of personal injury. It has information about courts, forms, complaint processes, and legal aid programs to assist plaintiffs in understanding their legal rights and responsibilities. Site visitors may also find details about low- or no-cost legal assistance in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety developed the computer-fillable collision report form to make it easy for people involved in car crashes to report any essential information about their accident to law enforcement. One can speed up the claims process with their insurance provider when they utilize this form.
The Oklahoma Court Records website provides locals with quick, easy access to criminal and civil court records and documents. It also has information about the state's court system. Moreover, the platform contains public records acquired from courts and other public agencies situated across Oklahoma's 77 counties.
The Tulsa County Bar Association's LRIS program is dedicated to serving people with legal concerns. Its goal is to refer those who require legal assistance to an experienced lawyer who practices in the area of law related to their situation. Its $25 referral fee includes a 30-minute initial consultation, where a client can learn more about their options and their potential lawyer can discuss other costs associated with their legal services. To get more information, call 918-587-6014.
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