In short, California’s one action rule basically states that any individuals who want to file a wrongful death claim for damages must include everyone who counts as an heir to join together and file one claim. Any damages will then be given to the family and they will have to figure out the best way of dividing up the damages amongst themselves. Typically, families can figure this out for themselves, but if there are issues or disagreements with dividing up damages, a court can intervene and decide how to best divide the settlement amount.
It is not the responsibility of the guilty individual(s) to contact and coordinate a claim with all known heirs. Whoever decides to bring a wrongful death claim against the guilty party must take care of this responsibility for themselves. However, just because the claimants cannot locate all known heirs does not mean the wrongful death claim will not go through. These individuals may still be entitled to appropriate compensation.
On the other hand, there may be issues when qualified heirs have been inadvertently excluded, because these individuals also have a right to being compensated as well. Any excluded individuals will then have to take legal action against the other claimants, and not against the guilty individual in order to recover damages entitled to them.
Finally, if the claim is being filed by a representative of the decedent, and not an actual family member, the requirement for the inclusion of all valid claimants is waived. Furthermore, if a defendant was aware that a valid claimant was not part of the wrongful death claim, the one action rule will not apply. In that case, a plaintiff may go ahead and file a wrongful death claim against the defendant.