An operative fact is a legally relevant fact that establishes a legal relationship between persons.[1]

For example, if a person is the beneficiary of a disability insurance policy, that person becomes entitled to benefits upon becoming disabled. Proof of disability is an operative fact, because it establishes the beneficiary's legal right to receive the insurance benefits.

Any fact that tends to prove or disprove the existence of another fact is classified as an evidential fact. An operative fact may also be an evidential fact, but it is not necessarily the case that it will be evidential. Similarly, additional evidence may be required before a legal relationship is proved.[1] For example, if one person strikes another person that fact may create legal right to recover damages for battery, thus potentially establishing a legal relationship. That same act could be introduced as evidence of the defendant's state of mind.

In litigation, both operative and material facts are relevant to a decision to be made by the court. Thus, all operative facts are also classified as material facts.

The term "operative fact" as a descriptor of the factual premise to a legal conclusion appears rooted in Hohfeldian legal semiotics.[2][3]


  1. ^ a b Corbin, Arthur (1929). "Legal Analysis and Terminology". Yale Law Journal. 29: 164.
  2. ^ Engle, Eric (2010). "Taking the Right Seriously: Hohfeldian Semiotics and Rights Discourse". The Crit. 3: 84–107 – via SSRN.
  3. ^ Hohfeld, Wesley (1917). "Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning,". Yale Law Journal. 26: 710. Retrieved 24 June 2018.