What is the ‘One Action’ Rule? | Ellis Injury Law

What is the ‘One Action’ Rule?

In California, the ‘one action‘ rule stipulates that the defendant in a wrongful death claim is protected against having to defend itself in multiple wrongful death lawsuits arising out of the same action. In other words, every possible plaintiff in the suit must file the wrongful death claim jointly, meaning different members of the victim’s family cannot bring multiple suits against the defendant. In effect, whoever files the lawsuit must include as plaintiffs all known heirs to the victim. This is a complex rule with which a Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer should be well-versed.  

What is the purpose of this rule? 

In an attempt to give the defendant a fair chance to defend itself, this rule ensures that the accused does not have to defend itself in multiple lawsuits at the same time. This rule also prevents the development of inconsistent legal outcomes, such as if one relative prevails and another does not, despite the existence of the exact same fact pattern against the same defendant.  

What does this mean for the victim’s family? 

Losing a loved one is never easy, no matter the underlying circumstances, and our wrongful death lawyers at Ellis Injury Law have been there for over a quarter-century for Southern Californians that are experiencing this nightmare.  When the death is unexpected and is caused by the wrongful act of another person, though, it can be that much more crushing for the surviving family members of the victim. In this context where confusion, loss, and pain abound, the law still requires the plaintiff to include all known heirs in the lawsuit.  

Depending on a variety of factors, this requirement can be extremely challenging to meet in such a confusing and emotional environment. Having a trusted attorney on your side can help take an imposing weight off of your shoulders.

Further confusing matters is the mechanics of what happens in the aftermath of the settlement or jury verdict. Consider the following:  

  • Any settlement or jury verdict in the plaintiff’s favor will be awarded to the victim’s whole family, who must then determine how to allocate the financial reward.  
  • Even if some heirs are accidentally excluded from the wrongful death claim, they still retain their right to any financial compensation granted to the family.  
  • If the family is unable to agree on how to split the financial reward, it is possible that they will have to go back into court in order to let the legal system decide the best allocation.  

When the ‘one action’ rule may not apply 

There are two important caveats to the ‘one action’ rule. First, if the wrongful death lawsuit is filed by the personal representative of the victim’s estate instead of by a relative of the victim, then the requirement to include all possible heirs in the claim does not apply. The reason for this is that the personal representative already has the authority to sue on behalf of all possible claimants.  

Second, one relatively murky area of the law presents itself in cases where the defendant knows that a particular claimant has not been joined in the lawsuit. In those cases, it is possible that the ‘one action’ rule will not apply, and that that excluded plaintiff will still be able to file his or her own wrongful death lawsuit. There is no official case precedent with the California Supreme Court regarding this issue.  

Are there any deaths that are ineligible for a wrongful death lawsuit? 

In California, there are some categories of death where the decedents of the victim are ineligible to file a wrongful death claim. These include the death of an unborn child or fetus, suicides, and cases where the victim dies of justifiable homicide. An example of a justifiable homicide would be if the victim was killed while committing a crime.  

The right attorney can bring clarity and success 

As you can clearly see, wrongful death claims are inherently complex, and the ‘one action’ rule can add multiple layers that further complicate these cases. Knowing which buttons to push and when to push them is vital for the success of your case, and an experienced wrongful death attorney can help ensure that that happens for you.  

If your family has a potential wrongful death lawsuit and wants to learn more about the ‘one action’ rule and how it applies to your case, we have a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer standing by. Ellis Injury Law offers completely free initial consultations, and you can take comfort in knowing that you will not be billed anything unless you win.