Before any case can be heard by a judge or a jury, the plaintiff must serve notice of the pending lawsuit to each and every one of the parties named as a defendant. A plaintiff’s failure to properly serve a party may result in a significant delay and may even cause an otherwise meritorious lawsuit to be prematurely dismissed.
In Virginia, there are several requirements that a plaintiff must ensure are met when effectuating service on a defendant. For example, the service must be addressed to the individual named in the lawsuit, or if an organization is named, to a person legally authorized to accept service. Additionally, service must be made by first-class mail, and the packet sent to the defendant must include certain additional information in order to be considered complete. In personal injury cases in which service becomes an issue, it is often because the defendant claims that the wrong person was served. This is especially true when the case is filed against a public or government entity. A recent case shows how important proper service is in personal injury lawsuits.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was involved in an accident with a school bus. The plaintiff claimed that the school bus driver was negligent in causing the accident and filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the driver as well as the school district that employed him. The plaintiff hired a process server, who went to the school district building, asked where service was accepted, and delivered service to the assistant to the Human Resources Director. The plaintiff did not attempt to personally serve the school bus driver.
For some reason, the school district did not respond to the lawsuit. Eventually, the court issued a default judgment against the school. Once the default judgment was entered, the school district responded, arguing that the default judgment should be reopened because the district was never properly served. The trial court agreed and reopened the judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.
The Appellate Court’s Decision
On appeal, the court held that the school district failed to provide sufficient evidence showing that service was improper. The court explained that when a defendant challenges the sufficiency of service, the defendant has the burden to prove that the service was somehow defective.
Here, the school district argued the proper party was not served. Under the applicable state law, service was to be made to the district’s “chief executive officer or clerk thereof.” The district argued that the assistant to the Human Resources Director was not a “clerk.” However, the district failed to present any additional evidence in support of its argument, and the court held that the district failed to meet its burden. Thus, service was proper, and the default judgment was ordered to stand. However, the court did affirm the dismissal of the case against the school bus driver, since there was no evidence that he had been served.
Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Virginia car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled injury lawyers at The Schupak Law Firm have extensive experience representing injured Virginians in all types of personal injury cases, including motor vehicle accidents. To learn more about how you may be entitled to compensation for the injuries you have suffered, call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation.
See More Blog Posts:
The Importance of Medical Experts in Virginia Medical Malpractice Cases, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, March 27, 2017.
Federal Appellate Court Determines Government Is Immune from Liability for Bicycle Accident Occurring in National Forest, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, April 10, 2017.