Do I Need to Actually be Handed Legal Documents to be Served Papers?
The process of being “served” can be confusing, especially since it typically is not a frequent occurrence for most people. Being served with legal documents is an indication that someone is involving you in a legal matter and that your personal response is required. You can be served for matters such as divorce, accident, or assault, among other issues. The serving of legal papers is typically the first step taken in initiating a lawsuit against someone else.
If you were served legal papers, it is important that you take action and not simply dismiss them. If you ignore the papers that you are served you may still have a legal judgment filed against you without you having the opportunity to defend yourself, which could lead to unfavorable circumstances such as loss of property, child custody, or finances.
When you are served papers, there are important things to keep in mind. Be sure that you keep all paperwork you have received and make copies of it for your attorney. Do not say anything to the person who serves you papers (often referred to as a Process Server). Process servers are the individuals responsible for the delivery of legal documents to their intended recipients. You should also not contact or say anything to the person who served you papers in the first place. It is important that all communication from the time of being served happens through a lawyer so you do not potentially incriminate yourself or exacerbate the situation.
Since it is a process server’s duty to deliver legal documents, you may be wondering if you need to actually be handed the documents to be served papers. Being served is a complicated process, but technically it is required that the documents be directly handed to the individual being served. However, even if documents are mis-delivered (e.g., they leave the papers for you at the office or in your mailbox rather than handing them to you directly) there could be serious implications for you not responding, and the mis-delivery may not hold up as a valid excuse in court.
Was Jean Improperly Served Legal Papers?
Jean is involved in a lawsuit. One night her 15-year-old son was home alone and a woman knocked at the door. He did not want to open the door to someone he didn’t know, so he spoke to the woman through the door. She said she was there to serve Jean with papers, but when he told her that Jean wasn’t home. The woman left the papers on the mat outside the door and told him to let Jean know that she left them there. In order to be served, does someone have to physically hand you the papers? Does the way this woman delivered them make Jean legally obligated to do anything?
If someone is making personal service, the server must hand the documents to the person served. Substitute service may take place if somebody at your home over the age of 18 receives a copy AND a copy of the same documents is mailed to your home, but since Jean’s son is only 15, this cannot be used. Since neither personal nor substitute service took place, that could not have been proper service.
However, you need to be cautious and diligent, because the server may misrepresent who she served and how she served the papers in her Proof of Service, and the other party in the lawsuit could seek to take your default and proceed against you. I would recommend that you set an appointment with an attorney familiar with the subject matter, and bring the papers that were left at your door (keeping a copy for yourself), to determine what your options and risks are. The cost of attacking improper service may not justify the risks you would take by ignoring the papers that were left at your door.
This answer pertains to individuals in the state of California.
Donald F. Conviser
Location: Woodland Hills, CA
Phone: (818) 880-8990