One of the first steps that you have to take in any personal injury suit is filing a claim and serving the defendant with a notice that they are being sued - or serve process on them. Here's why it's important and what you should know.
Defendants Have To Get A Fair Chance
If you file a lawsuit against somebody in court, and he or she doesn't bother to answer the complaint, the court will often enter what's known as a default judgement against the defendant. That generally means that you win your lawsuit, without having to prove your case or even present any evidence at all to justify your actions.
Service of process is simply the legal notice that courts require defendants to have before a default judgement can be entered. In essence, it's proof that the defendant had a fair chance to respond to a complaint before a judgement was entered and - for whatever reason - didn't.
Some Defendants Are Harder To Find Than Others
One of the difficulties presented to plaintiffs is that defendants can be difficult to locate and serve process on. The rules you have to follow can be very complicated, depending on what court is involved and where you live.
In most cases, you have to be able to provide an address - at a minimum - where the defendant is either known to be living or working. Then, you have to provide a copy of the legal complaint, the court summons, and the appropriate fee to the local sheriff, who then has to track down the defendant and hand him or her the paperwork in person.
In some jurisdictions, and in some cases, you are permitted to send the notice of the pending legal action through certified U.S. mail - as long as you get a receipt showing that the mail was received. In other cases, particularly in divorce cases where one spouse has abandoned the other and taken off for parts unknown, the courts will permit you to post notices of the legal action in a certain number of public places - such as the local library, DMV, or newspaper - to use as your process service.
In some cases, it may be necessary to hire a process server - especially if a defendant doesn't want to be found. These professionals specialize in delivering legal paperwork to people that are difficult to serve.
If you're not sure how to find the person you want to sue, talk to your attorney about possible options in your jurisdiction or about using a process server or even a private detective to locate the defendant.