Morgan Gaynor | February 9, 2021 | Florida LAw
If a lawsuit must be filed after a car accident, a physical copy of the lawsuit is delivered to the person or people being sued. This physical delivery by the appropriate officer is called service of process.
Sometimes, a sheriff makes service of process. In other cases, like when the sheriff is unsuccessful, a person, called a process server, is hired to deliver the lawsuit paperwork. Florida law governs what exactly a process server can legally do to serve papers.
How Can an Attorney Help You Understand What Exactly a Process Server Can Do To Serve Papers?
Many people believe that if they can avoid the process server who knocks on the door, they can defeat the lawsuit. While it is true that lawsuits cannot go forward without service of process, each state’s law allows for alternative methods if a person cannot be served.
Depending on the court and the kind of case, there are different alternative methods of service. A knowledgeable and experienced attorney will be able to request alternative service. Three common alternative methods used by attorneys include:
- Service on an attorney appointed curator for the defendant
- Substituted service
- Service by publication
The party who files the lawsuit can complete the appropriate legal procedures to accomplish one of these alternative methods of service. The service is valid if it meets legal requirements.
What Can Process Servers Do To Make Service?
Each state’s law defines what process servers in that state can do to make service. Process servers must work within their state’s regulations to do their job.
If you need to make service of a lawsuit, you may need to work with your attorney to provide information to help the process server make service. Information like where a person might be outside their home, the place of their work, or the address of friends or family members. Some process servers will even go to places where a person is known to have dinner or shop.
Can a Process Server Follow Someone to Work or School?
In general, a process server can make service at any location where they can find the person they need to serve. To do this, process servers might:
- Linger in a public place near a home, like a park or sidewalk
- Try to make service at a public workplace or wait in a public place nearby a workplace
- Knock on the doors of homes where the process server believes you may be present
While it seems intrusive for someone to knock on the door of the homes of your friends and family members, it is perfectly legal. U.S. law recognizes a residential front door as basically a “public place,” at which anyone is welcome to stand and knock under reasonable circumstances.
A process server can make service in any public place, like a parking lot or sidewalk. Trying to run, hide, or otherwise avoid service will not defeat a lawsuit and may result in injuries like broken bones in extreme circumstances.
Can Service of Process Be Defeated By Moving To a New Address?
Most states allow service by mail, among other methods for service. If a business needs to be served with a lawsuit, the law may allow for service through the mail to the business agent’s address.
Since the rules vary by state, some may require the use of Certified or Registered U.S. Mail. States may choose to allow commercial couriers (FedEx, UPS, DHL) to make delivery of service.
When making service by mail, courts usually require an affidavit from the person who made the mailing and a document that reflects proof of delivery.
Can a Process Server Leave Paperwork With Another Person in the Home?
Many states allow a process server to leave paperwork with a person of suitable age at the home of the person being sued. A reasonable person of suitable age who is in the home of the person being sued is expected to have a familiarity with the person and understand the importance of legal paperwork.
Are There Things a Process Server Cannot Do To Make Service?
While making service of process, process servers cannot break the law. Here are some examples of how process servers may bend the rules or even accidentally go too far.
Tamper With the Mail
Tampering with U.S. mail is a federal crime. A process server might be tempted to open a mailbox and check the names on the mail.
By doing this, a process server can confirm that the person lives at the address. One classic factor in determining a person’s legal residence is the address at which they receive mail.
Disguise or Impersonation
A process server cannot impersonate an officer or don disguise to make service. A process server cannot dress as a law enforcement officer, a delivery person, or a building superintendent to gain access to make service.
Process servers cannot break any laws while trying to make service. Therefore, they are not allowed to trespass on private property.
Trespass laws differ from state to state. Talk to an attorney in your state to learn more about what constitutes trespassing.