What Can & Can’t a Process Server Do to Serve Papers?
Ryan Zavodnick | January 16, 2020 | Personal Injury
If you’re planning on filing a personal injury lawsuit after getting into an accident in Philadelphia, you might be curious to know how the defendant will find out that they’re being sued. There’s actually a complex process involved. That process is carried out, in part, by someone known as a process server.
A process server’s job is to make sure that all parties involved in the case are properly notified. There are several rules about how and where the documents should be delivered.
What is a Process Server?
Process servers deliver legal documents in a litigation process. They deliver the documents to individuals who are involved in the case like defendants, witnesses, and other parties mentioned in the legal proceedings. Common documents that are served include:
- Complaints, and
The process server can never be a party to the case.
Each state has different regulations on who can be a process server and how the documents must be served. In Pennsylvania, process servers do not have to be licensed. In general, only a sheriff – usually hired through the county the case is in – may serve an original process.
In some cases, a competent adult can act as a process server. A competent adult is someone who is:
- Over the age of 18
- Not a party to the case, and
- Not related to or employed by someone who is a party to the case.
There are firms that specifically train individuals to become process servers for hire.
What a Process Server Can’t Do to Serve Documents
While movies and television may portray crazy ways that service may be delivered, there are specific rules and guidelines that all process servers must follow.
There are also several things that a process server cannot do, such as:
- Breaking and entering
- Going through your mailbox, or
- Using force to deliver the documents.
They also can’t use deception. They must clearly state who they are and they cannot pretend to be law enforcement if they are not.
What a Process Server Can Do to Accomplish Service
There are several ways that a process server can deliver documents. With all of these options, the process server will need to file a proof of service with the court. This is also called an affidavit of service or a certificate of service. The document explains to the court how the papers were delivered to the party.
Giving directly by hand
This may seem like the easiest way to get a document to someone. However, if that person knows that they are being served for a court case, they may do all that they can to avoid the process server. However, even if the process server cannot find you directly, that does not mean that you don’t have to appear in court. There are several other options the process server can take to make sure you get the documents.
Delivering to residence
The process server can also leave documents at the residence of the person being served. It cannot be simply left at the door; it must be received by an adult in the house. Ideally, the adult is someone related to the person being served who also lives at the residence. If no relative can be found, the document can be left with another adult who is currently in charge of the residence. For example, if the case involves medical malpractice, the documents can be served to the doctor’s home or work address.
Delivering to another place of residence
It could happen that the person who is supposed to receive the documents lives at a different type of residence, such as a hotel or boarding house. If that is the case, then the documents can be left with someone who is in charge of the residence like a manager. This person must have the authority to accept deliveries from the U.S. post office on behalf of residents.
Delivering to a place of work
If serving the documents to a residence does not work, the process server can also attempt to deliver to the person’s place of work or business. The documents will need to be handed to the person’s agent or the person in charge of the business at the time of delivery. For example, if the case involves workers’ compensation, the service would more than likely be delivered to the place of work that is mentioned in the lawsuit.
Serve by mail
If it is impossible for the process server to find a suitable place to serve the documents, they can send them by mail in certain cases. The documents need to be sent by certified and general mail to the person’s last known address. A return receipt should also be requested.
Service is critical to any legal proceeding, so it’s important to make sure that it’s accomplished properly. That’s why it’s always best to work with an experienced and qualified lawyer.