The ‘one action’ rule is a California legal mechanism designed to protect defendants in wrongful death cases from being sued over and over again by different family members. Rather than filing multiple lawsuits, the potential heirs must join together to file only one action in court.

How the ‘one action’ rule works

According to the ‘one action’ rule, whenever a family member– rather than a personal representative of the estate– files a wrongful death lawsuit, they must include all known possible heirs. Only one judgment can be awarded against the at-fault party, so the monetary award is granted to the family members.

 Ideally, the family will agree on how it should be shared, but if they cannot, they can go back to court and request that a judge decide.

The responsibility to include all potential heirs falls to the person filing. If they fail to include someone— that person may be permitted to go after the plaintiff for their share of the compensation. The personal representative of the estate does not have this additional requirement because they are already authorized to pursue a claim on behalf of all of the others.

Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit

State laws determine who is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In California, in addition to the personal representative– the following have standing to bring a claim:

  • A spouse or domestic partner
  • Children
  • Grandchildren (if the children are deceased)
  • Stepchildren or other minors who depended on the deceased person for at least half of their support
  • Any other individuals who would be entitled to inherit under the state intestacy law

If you believe you are eligible to file a claim, speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. The statute of limitations limit how long you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit, and you may need to do some preparation beforehand.

When the ‘one action’ rule does not apply

Wrongful death lawsuits may be combined with survival actions when the facts allow it. Survival actions do not raise the same problem of multiple potential plaintiffs because the plaintiff is the deceased person’s estate or representative. In other words, since other family members would not be able to bring lawsuits themselves, the ‘one action’ rule does not apply.

There is also some question as to whether the one action rule applies to out-of-court settlements. At least one court decision held that it did not, which could potentially allow family members who were not included in a settlement to file their lawsuit. However, this is still an unclear area of the law.

What compensation is available in a wrongful death lawsuit?

While the surviving family members can never truly receive what they lost by the death of a loved one, the law recognizes their right to compensation for economic and non-economic losses.

Economic damages can include funeral and burial expenses, medical bills, lost income, and other financial support that the deceased person can no longer provide. Non-economic damages include intangible losses that cannot be assigned a dollar amount like the loss of care, companionship, guidance, love, and support. It takes a thoughtful strategy to convey to a jury how much these things mean– but doing so can increase a wrongful death award substantially.

The one-action rule is designed to prevent a defendant from paying out these damages more than once to different claimants. Once the case is resolved, the family needs to come to an agreement on how to divide the compensation recovered.

Seek experienced counsel for your wrongful death claim

The ‘one action’ rule is just one of many potential pitfalls in navigating a wrongful death claim, but it can provide much-needed compensation and closure. When you choose to work with the Salamati Law, you get the benefit of compassionate yet skilled and aggressive representation. Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer Sean Salamati understands what you are going through and is committed to providing the advocacy you need.

Call us today to schedule a free, no-risk consultation. We offer representation on a contingency basis, which means we only get paid a legal fee if we secure compensation on your behalf, so you have nothing to lose.