operative fact

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An operative fact is one that is directly relevant to deciding some question of law.  In other words, an operative fact refers to a specific event or circumstance that gives rise to legal consequences and is crucial to the resolution of a legal issue or dispute. It is a factual element that is necessary to establish the existence of a legal right, duty, or liability. When a legal question is governed by fact-driven rules, operative facts may be thought of as variables that are plugged into those rules so that the right answer can be obtained.

For example, in a contract dispute, the operative facts may include the date of the contract's formation, the parties involved, the terms and conditions agreed upon, and the actions taken by the parties in fulfilling their obligations.

In a personal injury case, the operative facts may involve the date, time, and location of the incident, the actions of the parties involved, and the resulting injuries and damages.

[Last updated in July of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]