A wrongful death lawsuit is filed when you lose a loved one due to the negligence of another person or party. The lawsuit is typically filed after you seek damages from an insurer but your claim does not meet success. In such a case, a lawsuit is your only option moving forward. For wrongful deaths, you will need the help of an Orange County wrongful death attorney when filing a lawsuit.
California laws surrounding wrongful death lawsuits are complicated. You need to choose between filing a wrongful death lawsuit and a survival action lawsuit. In addition, all the heirs must be involved in the legal action pursuing damages. If they are not involved, this could create legal complications down the road.
This is because California follows what is known as a One-Action Rule in all wrongful death lawsuits. If you are about to file a lawsuit for the negligent loss of a loved one, you need to understand how this rule works.
What Is the One-Action Rule?
Under the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60, the one-action rule basically stipulates that only a single legal action can be brought against the negligent party in a wrongful death lawsuit. In other words, the at-fault party in a wrongful death incident can’t be sued by multiple parties or heirs representing the deceased victim.
This is a binding legal rule which ensures that all the heirs or parties that can file the lawsuit must band together in filing the suit. Otherwise, the guilty party has to deal with multiple lawsuits spread over several courts which can complicate legal matters.
Wrongful Death Claim Vs. Lawsuit
In understanding the one-action rule, it is important to understand the distinction between a claim and a lawsuit. A claim for damages, such as a wrongful death claim, is typically filed with the insurer of the at-fault party. The insurance company may accept the claim, turn it down, or negotiate with the claimant to reach an agreed-upon settlement.
It is possible for multiple parties to file multiple claims in connection with a wrongful death incident. The insurance company may then reach a combined settlement with all the claimants or offer separate damages to each party.
In contrast, a lawsuit is filed in a court of law. As noted above, it is a legal option when negotiations with an insurer break down, or when the at-fault party doesn’t have enough insurance. Unlike the claim for damages, only a single lawsuit must be filed against the negligent party.
Implications of the One-Action Rule
The one-action rule carries significant implications which apply to nearly all wrongful death lawsuits. Here is a look at these implications.
- All the parties eligible for filing a wrongful death lawsuit must come together as a single plaintiff.
- If any of the eligible parties files a lawsuit, it is the responsibility of this party to identify and include all the heirs.
- If the lawsuit is successful, the amount that is awarded goes to all the heirs of the deceased victim.
- The heirs must mutually reach an agreement to distribute the settlement amount. They may seek the help of a lawyer to reach a legal formula for the distribution of the money.
- If the heirs are unable to reach an agreement for the division of the settlement amount, they may go to a court of law and a judge may then determine the distribution formula.
Conflict Between the Heirs
The one-action rule can create potential conflict between the heirs of a wrongful death victim. This is because it is the legal responsibility of the heir who files the lawsuit to locate and include all the other heirs. If a lawsuit is filed without including all the heirs, the plaintiffs may still receive a settlement.
However, if an heir who had been left out later seeks a legal remedy, he or she will have a right to hold the original claimant responsible. In other words, the omitted heir will seek damages from the heir who filed the lawsuit and received settlement, and not from the defendant.
Hiring a Reliable Orange County Wrongful Death Attorney
If you have lost a loved one in an Orange County wrongful death incident, it is important to get legal help at the earliest. As discussed above, wrongful death claims and lawsuits can become complicated thanks to the unique rules that apply to them. So you want expert and thorough legal representation when filing a claim or lawsuit.
Here at the Crockett Law Group, we work with Orange County wrongful death victims. Our aim is to help you secure the maximum amount of settlement from the negligent party. Reach out to us now to discuss your wrongful death claim with our lawyers.