Why Do I Need to Serve a Lawsuit?
When you file paperwork for a lawsuit with the court, the next step is to ensure the other party is aware of it. After all, it would be fundamentally unjust for a court to adjudicate a lawsuit if you were not aware enough to defend yourself.
When you file your paperwork, the court will give you two dates. The first date is the service date. The second is the date of your initial hearing. You must serve the other party by the service date for your suit to move forward. You may be tempted to wait until the last minute to serve your papers to give you an edge over the other party. This is never a good idea. Failure to serve by the service date can cause the hearing to get pushed back and delay the entire process.
Additionally, courts take a very dim view of people playing games with service. If the judge senses you are attempting to manipulate the process, it could turn them against you. The best course of action is to serve your papers as soon as possible and get proof of service filed with the court immediately. The more prompt you are with your paperwork, the smoother the scheduling and overall procedure of your case will go.
There are many unusual service situations we will cover in other articles, such as how to serve someone who is out of state, out of the country, or in jail or prison, but for now, let’s cover the basics of personal service.
How to serve a Lawsuit?
Usually, serving papers for a lawsuit is very straightforward, but it is not without complications. If the other party is honest and accepts the service of the lawsuit with no problem, then it’s difficult to get this process wrong. Here are some key points, however.
The person offering service cannot be someone who is attached to the case. You cannot serve the papers yourself, and for all practical matters, your attorney cannot do so either, as this creates a risk of an attorney also being a witness and disqualifying them from counsel. Other than this, however, any willing person older than 18, capable of filling out the ‘Proof of Service,’ and able to testify to a court about the service, is capable of serving the other party.
You must hand-deliver these papers in person to the defendant. The person serving must physically be able to see the person they are serving and place the papers in their hands. If the person refuses to accept the papers, you may place them on the ground in front of them or on an obvious spot on a nearby surface. This is still valid service, even if the person you are serving ignores or destroys the papers.
Do not attempt to serve papers by leaving them on the doorstep of the person’s home, even if you hear their voice in the residence or you ‘know’ they are home. The person serving needs to be able to detail to the court how it was served, and anything other than physically handing the papers to a person or placing it visibly near them usually needs special orders from the court.
After the service, the server must fill out the Proof of Service form. They will then return this form for you to file with the court clerk. Service is considered complete on the day the papers were handed to the defendant, not the date you file the ‘Proof of Service’ with the clerk.
The Other Party is Dodging Service. What Do I Do?
This is where the complications of service come into play. While service is easy if the other party is willing to accept service, a suspicious party hoping to deter you from filing your lawsuit may attempt to dodge service. They may not answer the door or refuse to respond to the person serving the papers.
In these cases, you will often have to get creative. Remember, you are not required to serve the papers at the person’s home, only to the person physically. This means that a person could be served at work, school, church, or any other location the person may visit regularly. The more familiar you are with their movements, the more likely your service will be successful.
Professional options are highly successful, though they do come with a cost. You have the option to hire a process server. These servers are often highly successful because they are not typically known to the person being served. In the cases of family court, for example, the person you are serving may refuse to open the door to someone connected to you, such as a friend or a family member. A process server is a stranger with a much higher chance of getting the papers to their intended person. If you have an attorney for your case, attorneys often have specific process servers that they work with to get the paperwork to the appropriate parties.
In the event the person you are attempting to serve cannot be found, a private investigator (PI) is also a good option. A skilled PI has access to several tools that the average person does not and can usually locate a person’s address, place of employment, and other information they can use to finish service. Some PIs will even offer the service of court documents directly.
Finally, if there are struggles with service, the plaintiff can request special dispensation from the court for different methods of service. Service by substitution and certified mail are both options that you can ask the court for in order to serve the other party. Often a court will bring these up on their own if you reach your trial date and still have not managed to serve the other party.
How We Can Help
Having an attorney on your side when filing your lawsuit can spare you an awful lot of headaches. We know who to serve, how to serve, and have access to quality professional services that can help keep your case on track. If you’re looking for someone to help handle the stresses of your lawsuit, we have taken over 70 cases to trial and have decades of experience in the field. Schedule a free consultation with us today.