How to Give Notice of Your Small Claims Suit via Personal Delivery

Personal delivery, having the pleadings actually handed to the named defendant, is the best way to give the defendant notice of your small claims suit. It is also the way you always see it happen on TV.

Obviously, personal delivery is the most efficient way to tell someone that she’s being sued. It is hard for a defendant to claim she didn’t know about the case if the summons and complaint were served by personal delivery.

However, personal delivery is also one of the most expensive and time-consuming service of process methods because the papers must actually be given to the named defendant. You have to pay either a licensed process server or a public official such as the constable, sheriff, or marshal to serve the pleadings.

Because of the expense involved in personal delivery service, most small claims courts do not require this type of delivery initially. However, if the court’s preferred method of service, usually mail, fails and the defendant doesn’t respond to the initial summons, the court may require personal delivery.

The added cost of personal delivery may be recoverable if you win your case depending on the rules in your state.

Personal delivery is the most difficult method of service to complete, because the papers must be handed to the named defendant. Processes servers often have to be fleet of foot because, hard as it is to believe, people actually don’t like to be sued. Sometimes defendants get downright annoyed and chase the process server.

One good reason that you’re not allowed to serve the summons yourself is to prevent your civil suit from becoming a criminal matter if you and the defendant take your argument to the next level and someone starts swinging.

It is also not a good idea to go with the process server to watch the fun and then stand there yelling remarks the court would consider baiting, such as any version of “see ya in court.” It’s an equally bad idea to record the serving of the summons to post on your Facebook profile.

If you think the defendant is going to avoid service of process or deny her identity, give the process server a photograph to help identify the defendant. If you have to go with the process server to ensure delivery to the proper person, stay in the background and don’t participate or act out. If you can’t behave, have someone else who knows the defendant help pick her out.

If the defendant refuses to open the door and accept service, a process server will know how to properly handle that situation and file an appropriate affidavit of service. You or the friend you convinced to serve process won’t — another compelling reason to hire a professional to deliver your summons for you.

Also, even if the defendant decides to turn and sprint away from you yelling some version of “Can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man,” a professional can still find a way to serve the papers.

Back around the time Abe Lincoln was serving process, the law stated that the process server had to physically touch the defendant with the notice — this is no longer the case. Fun fact: Lincoln didn’t go to law school — he studied with a lawyer. States that still permit becoming a lawyer without attending law school label such attorneys Lincoln lawyers.

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