California Wrongful Death Lawsuits Must Join All Heirs


Generally, when California residents die in fatal accident, their heirs must band together to pursue one wrongful death lawsuit.This is because California adheres to what is known as the “one-action rule.” The rule operates just like one would assume from its title – only one action can be brought as a result of a wrongful death; individual heirs cannot bring their own lawsuits. But what happens when one heir makes a claim for wrongful death without notifying other qualified heirs?The California Court of Appeal recently addressed this issue. The answer depends on whether the heir actually filed a lawsuit or simply pursued an insurance settlement.

Moody v. Belford

The case involved a California mother who was killed in a head-on collision. After the mother’s death, her adult daughter, Corisha Brown, hired a personal injury lawyer to pursue a claim against the at-fault driver.

Before a lawsuit was filed, the at-fault driver’s insurance company offered to settle the case for its policy limits. In doing so, the insurance company requested that Brown provide the names of all of her mother’s heirs.

Brown lied, telling the insurance company that there were no heirs, when, in fact, her mother had five other children. Those children were all minors and were Brown’s half-siblings.

As a result, Brown received the entire settlement and her half-siblings received nothing.

After Brown had settled, the minor children, through their guardian ad litem, brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault driver. The insurance company moved for dismissal, noting that it had already settled the case with Brown and arguing that the half-siblings’ lawsuit was brought in violation of the one-action rule.

The Court of Appeal disagreed. It ruled that the one-action rule only applies when the first claim involved an actual lawsuit. It does not bar heirs from bringing a California wrongful death lawsuit when another heir reached an out-of-court settlement with the insurance company but never filed suit.

As a result, the minor children will now be able to seek justice for their mother’s wrongful death.

Identifying and notifying heirs is just one of the many concerns in a California wrongful death lawsuit. If your loved one has been killed in a fatal accident, contact an experienced San Francisco personal injury attorney who can help you understand your options.

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