When initiating a lawsuit, plaintiffs have a wide variety of procedural requirements that they have to follow in order to ensure that their lawsuit is brought in a timely fashion, and the defendants receive adequate notice of the lawsuit. One of these requirements is that the plaintiff must ensure that the defendant is served with a copy of the complaint that was filed and a summons so that the defendant knows to respond to the plaintiff’s allegations. Plaintiffs can utilize a variety of means for having a defendant served, including personally serving the defendant, using a process server company to finalize service, or having the local Sheriff’s department conduct service. No matter which method is used, the plaintiff bears the burden of ensuring that service has occurred and that proof of service has been filed with the court. When service is improper or does not occur, a lawsuit may be tossed out unless the plaintiff can provide a good excuse for the error.
In a recent Tennessee motorcycle accident case, the court looked at circumstances in which the plaintiff attempted service, but the service was never actually finalized. In that case, J.E. delivered a copy of his complaint and summons to the local Sheriff’s office for service. He also sent a courtesy copy to the defendant, P.H.’s insurer, and J.E. and the insurer had ongoing discussions about the resolution of the case. After some time had passed, J.E. realized that he had never received proof of service of the complaint on P.H. and reached out to the Sheriff’s office to inquire. The Sheriff’s office could not confirm if they had served the complaint and requested more time to look into it.
The Sheriff’s office subsequently confirmed that they had not served the complaint because they believed that it had been lost within their office. The explained that J.E. could serve a second alias complaint and summons on P.H., but first the Sheriff’s office needed to confirm in writing that the original versions were lost. Several weeks passed, and J.E. did not receive this written confirmation. Eventually, he reached back out to the Sheriff’s office, and they confirmed that the originals had been lost, and service of alias documents would be appropriate. By this time, the deadline for service had passed, and P.H. moved to dismiss the case.