When you file a lawsuit, you are required to notify the defendant(s) in the case by serving the legal papers directly to them. Your case could be dismissed or any judgment you receive overturned if you invalidate the serving process in some way or don't do it at all. Your attorney will typically take care of this task for you. If you're representing yourself or filing the case in small claims court, however, here's what you need to know about serving lawsuit papers to the defendant in your car accident case.
The Server Must Meet State Requirements
Each state has a list of qualifications a person serving the lawsuit papers must meet for the service to be considered valid and lawful. At minimum, the server must be 18 (the age when people can lawfully enter contracts) and cannot be an interested party in the lawsuit. Therefore, you cannot serve the defendant yourself. However, your friends and family members can as long as they don't have anything to do with the suit. For instance, your spouse who stands to benefit from the suit by virtue of the marriage likely wouldn't be eligible, but your siblings might be.
Some states, however, require servers be approved by the court. In other areas, such as Arizona, process servers must be certified by the state. You should research the rules in your area to ensure you're complying with the law.
If you want to save yourself some time and aggravation, hire a third-party professional to serve the defendant for you. You can ask the court to recommend servers in your area as well as search online for local professionals.
Serve the Right Person in the Right Place
If there is only one defendant in your lawsuit, that's the person who must be served the court papers. However, things can get a little confusing if there are multiple people or a company involved.
If there was more than one person involved in the accident and none of the people are connected to each other, every person you're suing must be served. However, if there is a relationship between the people being sued, who gets served depends on how they're connected.
For instance, when suing people in a partnership, only one of the partners needs to be in receipt of the lawsuit paperwork. When suing a corporation for an accident its driver caused, the paperwork must go to an officer of the company (e.g. CEO) or its designated recipient for service (e.g. the company attorney). Lawsuits against the city must be sent to the city clerk, while papers should be sent to the Attorney General if you're suing the state government.
It's also important to note that you can only serve lawsuit papers to people who reside in the state where you filed the lawsuit. The exception is if you're suing in your home state, but the owner of the vehicle who hit you lives in another state. In that case, you can serve the person where they live and they would be expected to appear in court.
Serve in Person
The courts prefer defendants be served in person, i.e. the papers handed directly to them or their representatives. If your server makes a good faith effort to serve the person and the individual manages to consistently dodge them, you may be able to complete service by tacking a copy to the person's residence and then mailing another copy via certified mail. This is only available in a limited number of states, so it's best to check with the local court to make sure this is okay.
For more information about serving someone with lawsuit papers, contact an attorney.