Oklahoma City Governmental Tort Claims

If you're dealing with the aftermath of an incident involving a city entity, understanding the ins and outs of Oklahoma City governmental tort claims can feel overwhelming. The governmental tort claims process even gives attorneys "headaches." 
Clayton T. Hasbrook

Written by Clayton T. Hasbrook. Last modified on January 11, 2024

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You might think about filing a lawsuit when something goes wrong, and you believe a city department or employee is to blame. Unfortunately, you must first file a “tort claim” and follow the other government “red tape” before a lawsuit can proceed.

The biggest issue is the moving target on when the lawsuit can be filed. If there is no response from the City after the claim has been filed, the lawsuit can’t be filed until 90 days after the claim was presented. If the city doesn’t respond, it’s “deemed denied” after 90 days. The lawsuit must be filed within 180 days after the initial 90 days.  If the claim is denied, the window to file the lawsuit is 180 days from the date of the denial.

This type of legal action is not as straightforward as other personal injury claims due to specific procedures and limitations set by law:

  • Definition: A governmental tort claim is a legal action you can take if you’ve suffered damages or injuries due to the negligence or wrongful actions of a city government entity or its employees.
  • Notice of Claim: Before you can sue, you must file a written notice of claim with the appropriate city office. This notice should be precise, outlining the incident and the damages you seek.
  • Time Limits: Oklahoma law requires filing the notice within a year of the incident. Missing this deadline means losing your right to a claim.
  • Investigation: After you file, the city will investigate your claim. During this time, communication is key; stay in touch and provide any additional information they might need.
  • Resolution: The city might settle with you, or you may need to escalate to a lawsuit if you’re not satisfied with their response.

Example Defendants for Oklahoma City Governmental Tort Claims

This is not an exhaustive list, but if the defendant on your claim is one of these parties, then you’ll need to follow the Tort Claim requirements:

  • Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COPTA)
    • EMBARK Bus
    • RAPID Bus Transit
    • OKC Streetcar
    • EMBARK Parking
    • EMARK Bike Share (Spokies)
    • EMBARK Ferry Transit (Oklahoma River Cruises)
  • Will Rogers World Airport
  • Oklahoma Highway Patrol
  • Oklahoma City Police Department
  • Oklahoma City Schools
  • Oklahoma City Fairgrounds
  • Oklahoma City Parks (but note the Recreational Land Use exclusions)
  • EMSA (Emergency Medical Services Authority)
  • Oklahoma City Utilities (Trash Truck Drivers)
  • OKC Golf Courses
  • Related OKC Entities that have Employee Driven City Vehicles (While on the Job)

Sovereign Immunity

The State of Oklahoma upholds the principle of sovereign immunity. This doctrine grants immunity to the state, its political subdivisions, and their employees from being held liable for torts committed during the performance of governmental or proprietary functions, except where exceptions are specified in the Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA)

Claims or “Scope of Liability”

  1. The state is potentially liable for torts committed by its employees, including medical personnel, if these acts occur during their employment duties.
  2. When on state or Title 32 active duty, members of the state military forces are treated as state employees for liability purposes, regardless of their duty location.
  3. “Scope of employment” encompasses actions employees take in good faith within their job responsibilities or assigned tasks. This includes using agency vehicles or equipment with authorized consent but excludes actions involving corruption or fraud.
  4. Purchasing commercial liability insurance by entities like transportation authorities or railroads does not negate any protections, immunities, or defenses the GTCA offers.
  5. The GTCA establishes that its provisions are the sole basis for the state’s tort liability, superseding other legal bases like common law or the Oklahoma Constitution, subject to the Act’s limitations and exceptions.
  6. A “tort” under the GTCA is defined as a legal wrong, not based on contract, that violates a duty established by law, leading to loss due to an act or omission by the state, its subdivisions, or their employees within their employment scope.

Step-by-Step Procedure for Filing a Tort Claim in Oklahoma City

Step 1: Document the Incident

In the wake of an incident, you must thoroughly document everything. This includes:

  • Take photographs or videos of the scene, if possible.
  • Gathering names and contact information of any witnesses.
  • Preserving any physical evidence related to the incident.

Step 2: Seek Medical Attention

If you’ve been injured, getting medical help should be your top priority. Not only is this critical for your health, but medical records also serve as important evidence in your claim.

Step 3: Prepare the Notice of Claim

Your next task is to draft a Notice of Claim. This document should include the following:

  • A detailed description of the incident.
  • Specifics about the injury or damage you’ve suffered.
  • A clear statement of the monetary damages you’re seeking.

Step 4: File the Notice of Claim and Note Your Calendar

After drafting your Notice of Claim, it’s time to file it. The claim against the State of Oklahoma must be filed with the Office of Risk Management. If the claim is against OKC, it must be filed with the Oklahoma City Clerk’s Office.

Remember, you only have a year from the date of the incident to do this. You’ll also want to note 90 days after the City or State received the claim.

Step 5: Cooperate with the Investigation & Claims Office

Once your claim is filed, the city will conduct an investigation. Stay responsive and cooperative during this period, providing any additional information they request.

Step 6: Await a Response After the investigation, the city will either accept or deny your claim, offer a settlement, or ignore you. If unsatisfied with the outcome, it may be time to escalate to a lawsuit.

While the process of filing an Oklahoma City governmental tort claim may seem complex, breaking it down into these manageable steps makes it less intimidating. And remember, a legal professional can offer invaluable assistance throughout this process.

Oklahoma Tort Claims Act Limits and Exemptions

Extent of Liability (Damages)

The Oklahoma Tort Claims Act sets the maximum compensation you can recover from a governmental entity. The limit is:

Up to $25,000 for property loss claims per incident.
The general liability limit is $125,000 per claimant per incident, increasing to $175,000 for larger cities/counties and defined political subdivisions. For University and State Mental Health Hospitals’ medical negligence, the limit is $200,000. This also applies to certain prenatal, delivery, or infant care services provided between September 1, 1991, and June 30, 1996.
The overall cap for multiple claims from a single incident is $1,000,000.

Claims for Wrongful Criminal Felony Conviction

Allows claims for wrongful conviction with proof of actual innocence, applicable from May 28, 2003 onwards. The compensation limit is $175,000. To qualify, the individual must meet specific criteria, including not pleading guilty, being sentenced to imprisonment, and receiving a pardon or judicial relief based on actual innocence.
No compensation for time served under a concurrent sentence for a different crime.

Prohibition of Punitive Damages

No punitive or exemplary damages can be awarded in claims against the state or subdivisions.

Apportionment in Multiple Claims

If total awards exceed statutory limits, the court can apportion payments to claimants based on their proportion of the total claims.

Liability of Resident Physicians and Interns:
The liability limit for resident physicians and interns in specific medical education programs is capped at $100,000.

Settlement Approval Without Insurance

When a settlement amount exceeds $25,000, and the payment stipulated by the settlement is not covered by a relevant contract or insurance policy, the settlement does not become effective until it receives approval from the district court and is formally recorded as a judgment in accordance with legal procedures.

Exemptions

There are certain situations in which Oklahoma City or its employees may be exempt from liability, including:

  • When the claim involves legislative or judicial action or inaction.
  • When the claim arises from the execution of an unlawful order.
  • When the claim involves the assessment or collection of taxes.
  • When the claim is related to a condition of unimproved property.

Legal Rights and Damages Available under the Oklahoma Tort Claims Act

Your Legal Rights

In Oklahoma City, as a victim of a governmental tort, you have the right to:

  • File a claim against the city or its employees.
  • Seek compensation for your damages within the limits set by law.
  • Receive a fair and timely investigation of your claim.
  • Appeal any decision made regarding your claim.

Types of Damages

Under the Oklahoma Tort Claims Act, you can seek different kinds of damages, depending on the circumstances of your case:

  • Economic Damages: These include quantifiable losses like medical expenses, repair costs, lost wages, and other out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Non-Economic Damages: These are more subjective and include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Tips for Navigating the Oklahoma City Tort Claim Process

Start Early

When dealing with Oklahoma City governmental tort claims, time is of the essence. Begin your claim process immediately to ensure you don’t miss any deadlines. Remember, there are specific timelines within which you must file your claim.

Document Everything

Documentation can be your best friend in these scenarios. Medical bills, repair estimates, and the incident’s photographs can all serve as crucial evidence. The more thorough your documentation, the more solid your claim becomes.

Consult with a Lawyer

It can be beneficial to have a legal expert by your side. Attorneys familiar with Oklahoma City governmental tort claims can help you navigate the process efficiently. They can offer insight into the nuances of the law and help you understand your rights better.

Be Patient, but Note Your Deadlines

The tort claim process can be lengthy and complex. It’s crucial to remain patient and persistent. While it can sometimes be frustrating, remember that the process is required to recover anything.

File a Lawsuit

Name the Proper Party

The lawsuit must specifically name the state or the political subdivision (such as a city or county) as the defendant. Employees of the state or political subdivision, if they were acting in their official capacity or within the bounds of their employment, are not to be listed as defendants. The employees can be named if it is a separate cause of action (but if that’s the case, they’re likely not acting within their scope of employment).

 

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by Founding Partner, Clayton T. Hasbrook who has years of legal experience as a personal injury lawyer. Our last modified date shows when this page was last reviewed.