Service Error Nullifies $37 Million Judgment

Personal injury lawsuits, like many other kinds of lawsuits, generally begin the same way – with the filing of the Complaint and any supporting documentation and information needed to state a claim for injury or damages. The Complaint has to be served on the party being sued, often by using a process server. Usually, that is a routine process. But when service is not conducted properly, it can become a huge problem down the road.

The idea of serving someone with a lawsuit comes from our constitutional rights to notice and opportunity to be heard. Simply put, you aren’t allowed to be sued and have a judgment entered against you without your being aware that you’re being sued. To make you aware, the lawsuit is usually hand-delivered by a sheriff or a process server, ensuring that you have notice of the lawsuit. The person serving you has to make very specific notations about how and when you were served. There are ways to serve people or businesses that can’t be located, or that try to hide from service, but those laws must be strictly complied with to avoid trampling on someone’s constitutional rights.

Mistakes in Service

One mistake in service can have catastrophic results. Such was the case in Alabama, where an appellate court overturned a $37 million judgment in favor of a bar sued for over-intoxicating a patron who eventually killed an innocent victim while driving under the influence. The victim’s family sued the bar by serving the bar owner, but only served the owner “by publication,” a service method that allows a party to publish notice in a newspaper or periodical to satisfy the service requirement. The bar owner, unaware that he had been sued, never responded to the complaint, and a judgment was entered against the bar.

As it turns out, the strict procedures for service by publication were not followed. As a result, the verdict was overturned. Unlike other problems or mistakes that may arise during a lawsuit, the failure to provide someone his constitutional rights to notice of a suit cannot be corrected later on, and the entire judgment is at risk for being overturned.

Don’t Risk Making a Mistake

Luckily, serving most large corporations accused of injuring people is not difficult, and rarely will a business establishment evade service. Service can be a bit more difficult when suing individuals in auto accidents–even though their insurance company may defend them, and even pay a settlement, the individual who is being sued must still be personally served. This can sometimes be difficult for those who move often, or are purposely hiding from a process server.

Don’t guess about the most important parts of your injury suit. If you or someone you know has been injured in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.