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Service of Process In California And Specific Issues Relating To Personal Injury And Wrongful Death Cases

Many people find service of legal process to be a mystery. Most don’t understand the rules of how it’s done and that the government has very strict requirements as to how it must be done. These requirements were formulated by the government to enshrine into law protections for all involved. These protections cover citizens, companies, and organizations in civil disputes, and they ensure that everyone gets the same treatment, regardless of their role or liability in a civil matter, such as when someone suffers a personal injury.
Personal injury liability is not always a clear-cut situation and many times fault for the injury can be murky. Personal injuries can be sustained in a variety of ways, and in some cases, the person or company causing the injury is completely unaware of their liability. Many times, a complicating issue is that there are multiple parties who have liability for a personal injury that someone suffered. Of course, there are also the situations in which the party that is liable does not want to admit fault for causing the personal injury.

The Basics

To protect the rights of all involved in civil disputes generally, including in personal injury disputes, the law requires that service of process be made on any party named in a lawsuit. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but the two most common are: personal service and substituted service. One must keep in mind that proof of service is legally required, so personal service is by far the most effective method.
California law requires that formal notice (and proof of delivery of that notice given to the court) be provided to the party or parties on the other side of the lawsuit from you. This is why personal service should be the first choice when serving process on the party who caused your injury. The two basic documents that must be served to initiate a personal injury lawsuit are a Summons and a Complaint. No ifs, and, or buts here.

Who Can Perform Service Of Process?

  1. Persons 18 years of age or older such as:
a.Professional Process Servers
b.Friends and relatives
c.Coworkers
d.A county sheriff or marshal

Who Can’t?

a. The party bringing the lawsuit
b. The party responding to the lawsuit is also prohibited by law from delivering their response by personal service
c. Minors (i.e. under the age of 18)

Personal Service

Under California Rules of Civil Procedure (“CCP”), section 415.10, a summons shall be served by personal delivery of a copy of the summons and of the complaint to the person to be served. Service of a summons in this manner is deemed complete at the time of such delivery. And the legally required follow-up is “the date upon which personal delivery is made shall be entered on or affixed to the face of the copy of the summons at the time of its delivery.” By this point, you’re probably wondering, “is the only way that service can be completed?” Luckily, the answer is NO.

Substitute Service

In California, under CCP section 415.20 a summons and complaint may be delivered to a workplace, dwelling house, usual place of abode, or business or usual mailing address. BUT there are specific rules that must be adhered to for this kind of service, and for personal delivery service as well, such as: When service is made at a location like the ones mentioned above, CCP section 415.20 states “a summons may be served by leaving a copy of the summons and of the complaint during usual office hours in his or her office with the person who is apparently in charge thereof, and by thereafter mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint (by first-class mail, postage prepaid) to the person to be served at the place where a copy of the summons and of the complaint were left. Service of a summons in this manner is deemed complete on the 10 the day after such mailing.”
Section 415.20 further states, “if a copy of the summons and of the complaint cannot with reasonable diligence be personally delivered to the person to be served…, a summons may be served by leaving a copy of the summons and of the complaint at such person’s dwelling house, usual place of abode, usual place of business, or usual mailing address other than a United States Postal Service post office box, in the presence of a competent member of the household or a person apparently in charge of his or her office, place of business, or usual mailing address other than a United States Postal Service post office box, at least 18 years of age, who shall be informed of the contents thereof, and by thereafter mailing a copy of the summons and of the complaint (by first- lass mail, postage prepaid) to the person to be served at the place where a copy of the summons and of the complaint were left. Service of a summons in this manner is deemed complete on the 10th day after the mailing.”

Service By Mail

Many people are under the impression that simply dropping the required legal papers in the US mail to the party to be served is the end of the story. This is not sufficient under California law. However, when hand delivery of your personal injury lawsuit documents to the person to be served or their appropriate substitute just isn’t possible, service is allowed to be conducted by mail but with strict requirements. The first important point to bear in mind is that California law prohibits parties named in a lawsuit from actually mailing legal documents such as summons and complaint. Service by mail is legally required to be done by a non-party who meets the criteria above.
The second important point is when the summons and complaint are mailed, the law requires two copies of a notice and acknowledgment form be mailed for the party being served to execute written acknowledgement and return that to the serving party. And this is where the rub comes in: if the party being served by mail doesn’t execute the acknowledgement and send it to the serving party, how does the serving party actually know that the service was effective? The answer is they don’t. Although there is a remedy for the serving party in such situations called default, it is a complicated, time-consuming process that most people would prefer to avoid.

Default And Service Of Statement Of Damages In Personal Injury And Wrongful

Death Cases Default refers to a judgment issued by the court against a party who fails to answer a complaint in a lawsuit. If the person you’ve served by personal service, or by substitute service, by mail, or one of the other accepted methods ignores the lawsuit entirely, you have the ability to obtain a default judgment as long as certain criteria have been met. For personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits in California, one of those criteria you have to meet in order to obtain a default judgment is to serve a Statement of Damages by one of the same methods used for service of the Summons and Complaint. CCP section 425.11. Thus, if you suspect that the party you’re suing might not respond, it may be good practice to serve a Statement of Damages with the Summons and Complaint. Service Of Process For Recovery For Your Personal Injury To summarize, proper service for your personal injury recovery is critical and must be done the right way under the law. And importantly, the rights of all parties involved in civil lawsuits are protected by California’s rules of service. Although these rules may seem really complicated, first and foremost, they protect your right to recover for harms you may have suffered through no fault of your own. The rules of service also protect people, companies, and organizations from lawsuits being filed against them without proper notice. At Haffner Law, we use only the most tried and true methods for service and the most seasoned professionals to conduct service of process on behalf of our personal injury clients.
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