One-Action Rule Did Not Bar Suit By Plaintiffs Where Insurer Had Settled Wrongful Death Claim Prior To Litigation With Another Heir

Moody, a Minor, etc., et al, v. Bedford, et al, No. B226074 (January 9), was brought by the minor surviving children of the decedent mother and their guaradian ad litem.  They filed a wrongful death action against defendants arising out of a head-on automobile collision that killed the mother.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants under the one-action rule (Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60), concluding that an insurer’s pre-litigation, policy-limits settlement of a wrongful death insurance claim with one heir, who had represented that she was the sole heir, barred plaintiffs’ subsequent wrongful death action.  Division Five of the Second Appellate District reversed.  It held that the one-action rule does not apply to the prelitigation settlement by the insurer and therefore does not bar the subsequent wrongful death action against the defendants.  Plaintiffs argued that a wrongful death action had never been filed; there was only a prelitigation tender of a claim for policy limits.  The appellate court agreed.  Although Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60 refers to “a cause of action,”  the judicially-developed one-action rule concerns only “actions” or “suits.”  See Cross v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (1964) 60 Cal. 2nd 690, 694.  It does not apply to a prelitigation claim or cause of action.  A defendant who wishes to avail himself or herself of the benefits of the one-action rule must first have been subjected to potential liability in a prior wrongful death action.

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January 9, 2012   Posted in: Blog