Trusts and Estates

King v. Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Cite as A163843
Filed August 22, 2022, Fourth District, Div. Three

By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

Headnote:  Civil Procedure – Mandatory Right to Intervention

Summary:  There is no blanket prohibition that categorically bars an heir from intervening as a matter of right in a lawsuit filed by a personal representative in a wrongful death suit.

King, decedent’s former spouse and the mother of decedent’s minor child, was appointed by the Alabama probate court as personal representative of decedent’s estate.  Decedent died in a helicopter crash.  King filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the heirs in California.  Decedent’s surviving spouse, Wasdin, filed a motion to intervene as a matter of right and addressed the four elements required to support mandatory intervention, namely (1) timeliness; (2) her interest related to the subject action; (3) the impairment of her interest if intervention was denied; and (4) the inadequacy of King’s representation of her interest.  The court denied Wasdin’s motion, finding that there was no statutory or case authority to support an heir being permitted to intervene in a wrongful death action filed by the personal representative.  The court also held that any questions about King’s fitness and ability to represent Wasdin’s interests must be adjudicated by the Alabama probate court that appointed King as personal representative.

The appellate court reversed and remanded for the trial court to reconsider the motion to intervene.  Wasdin, as an heir, was entitled to intervene as a matter of right in the pending wrongful death action so long as Wasdin met the statutory requirements for intervention.  There is nothing in the statutes governing intervention and wrongful death suits that expressly prohibits an heir from intervening even if an action by the personal representative is already pending.  Allowing an heir to intervene does not violate the “one action” rule because defendants will still be defending a single cause of action for wrongful death in one litigation and subject to one judgment.  The trial court also erred by holding that it was for the Alabama probate court to decide whether the personal representative will adequately represent Wasdin’s interest as an heir, as that is a question for the court adjudicating the wrongful death action.

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