Lawsuits involve several complicated processes. For example, in personal injury litigation, the victim typically has to file a claim or complaint in a small claims court.
After filing your petition, the court will issue a summons (which usually contains the name of the individuals involved in the case, the case number, and the court's location) to the parties involved in the lawsuit.
The court serves the summons to the guilty party to inform them of your claim. This act is called service of process and typically involves a process server or process service company.
Throughout this article, we'll discuss what process service is alongside the role of a process service company. If you're filing a personal injury or any legal claim for the first time, dive in to find out how you can serve notice to the other party.
What Is Service of Process?
Service of process is a legal procedure in lawsuits that involves notifying the defendant about a summons to court through a process server. Typically, process servers are either individuals or a process service company, such as D&R Legal Process Service.
That said, different states in the US have separate regulations that define the legal service of process. For example, defendants can receive a court summons through the mail in some jurisdictions, or a process server must deliver it to them personally.
However, most US states require process service companies to serve legal documents in-person because some defendants may want to evade the process to avoid showing up in court.
Some individuals may even change residential locations to avoid getting served court summons. As such, process servers often resort to tracking defendants and traveling to their new city of residence if need be to deliver the court documents.
In some other cases, they may stake out at the person's home or business to serve them. However, US law defines some things process service companies cannot do during service of process. Some of them are:
- Breaking and entering
- Pretending to be law enforcement
- Resorting to threats or harassment
- Serving court papers to a minor
- Compelling the defendant to answer the door
How can a process server serve court documents then? Here are some of the legal methods:
Service By Mail
Some states in the US allow process service companies to serve legal petitions by mail, and the process server can send the documents to the defendant's home or business mail address.
However, this method isn't a generally accepted practice because it is difficult for the court to tell if the served party received the notice or not.
This method is the most common and reliable type of service of process. Here, a process server physically delivers the court summons to the defendant's home or office address.
Once the individual collects the documents, the process server records the date of the delivery, otherwise called "date of service." This date determines when the defendant will file a response.
Substituted service often is a last resort if a process server has tried severally to deliver the court summons without success. It usually involves leaving the petition with someone over 18 who lives with the defendant.
Alternatively, the process server could deliver the court papers to the person in charge at the business address of the defendant. The process server will also have to fill in some documents with the court stating that they could not serve the individual in person.
This form of service of process involves mailing the paperwork to the defendant's home or office address after agreeing that they'll sign the documents whenever they receive them. Generally, the lawyers representing the defendant receive the court summons in this case.
Aside from these methods, there are also other legal forms of serving court petitions, such as:
- Posting on residential premises (usually for eviction cases)
- Service to last known address with a request for a return receipt: Process servers use this method whenever the other party is out of state
- Publishing process service on newspapers after the consent of the courthouse
- Posting court summons in public view: The courthouse must also agree to this method
What Happens If a Process Server Cannot Find the Defendant?
Often, individuals involved in a lawsuit will try to evade getting served court papers. In such scenarios, the process server may leave the documents with someone who lives with the defendant. However, this individual must be 18 or older.
They can also deliver the document to the defendant's office address but only to someone in charge. That said, before serving the paperwork, the process server must explain what they are for.
If these methods are not obtainable, the court could grant permission for the process server to publish the petitions in a newspaper located in the defendant's city.
This method certifies that the defendant has been served by public notice. However, before using any of these types of process of service, the process server must have tried and failed to deliver the paperwork in person several times.
There are some restrictions across US states on the different methods of service, though. For example, while some jurisdictions may allow process service companies to serve court claims to individuals living with the defendant, others may not. Some other states may permit it for some cases but prohibit it for others.
As such, it is crucial for process servers to understand the laws guiding service of process in their various states before delivering court summons.
Service of process is a crucial part of court procedures during lawsuits. However, it can quickly become tedious, especially if you're handling it independently. Long lines at the courthouse and the inefficiencies of the legal system can delay filing your court claim.
Also, the elusive nature of the defendant can have you running around endlessly trying to serve them the court summons. However, you can save yourself all of this stress by hiring professional hands to handle the process service for your lawsuit.
That said, we'd recommend you hire a nationwide process server, as that means they'll be able to track the defendant if they're evading the law and serve them the notice in any city they're in.