Operation of Law

Black’s Law Dictionary defines ‘operation of law’ very technically as the “manner in which rights, and sometimes liabilities, devolve upon a person by the mere application to the particular transaction of the established rules of law, without the act or co-operation of the party themselves.” Nolo’s Law Dictionary simplifies this as any time “someone acquires certain rights or responsibilities automatically under the law, without taking individual action or being the subject of a court order.” Like dominoes falling in a row, some legal actions naturally accompany certain events. In other words, once something happens, legally something else must automatically happen.

Example Sentence

When a person dies without a will, the operation of law causes the legal heirs to receive the inheritance.

Case Study

In a Utah Court of Appeals case, Ms. Jacobsen caused an accident while working for Wagon Tongue. An insurance company sought to hold Wagon Tongue’s insurance provider as the primary party responsible for paying for the accident. However, since Ms. Jacobsen was not driving one of her employer’s cars, the court found that they were not the first person responsible. The court did note, though, that Wagon Tongue also becomes partly responsible for the accident “by operation of law”. This means that the person injured by Ms. Jacobsen can automatically include Wagon Tongue in a lawsuit with their employee because she was working for them at the time of the accident.

Other Important Information

According to Utah’s rules of descent and distribution, estate administration proceeds first to some person previously designated for that duty, then to the spouse, children, parents, and siblings, in that order. This is primarily how operation of law applies in the field of personal injury, specifically, wrongful death cases. Utah law also states that a car given to another through the operation of law (i.e. not voluntarily) loses its registration and cannot be used on a highway for more than 75 miles until registered.

Photo courtesy of Christensen & Hymas.

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