Process Service During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to lead the legal industry into uncharted waters, legal professionals ask the same question: how will the pandemic affect the service of process for both parties (the parties who are serving and those being served)? Process-servers in NYC experience difficulty due to the growing number of closed business locations, as well as the health concerns raised by personal service.

Process Service Challenges During COVID-19

The pandemic has given rise to a new type of “normal” set of circumstances where:

  • A significant number of people now work from home. Many businesses have unoccupied offices.
  • People are strictly required to follow government regulations on self-isolation and social distancing, which involves limiting and reducing physical contact with others.

The new normal poses difficulties for parties in existing and new court proceedings, such as:

  • Ensuring the efficient serving of court documents in a manner recognized by the court’s rules. Due to isolation restrictions, an individual may be unable to physically serve or be served papers as required by the court.
  • Collection and delivery of mail to the right person while following health safety rules. The law regards delivery or even deemed delivery of a document to a company’s office as effective, even though the business is unaware of the document’s arrival because of remote work arrangements. Companies must have effective methods for receiving and sending mail.
  • Potential disputes over whether a document was delivered or arrived at the correct service address

The situations above increase the risk of the following occurrences:

  • The applicant (or plaintiff) possesses a default judgment, only to be set aside by the respondent (defendant) if, for example, the originating process could not be proved or was not properly served
  • A respondent (or defendant) is against the service of the originating process, but their refusal did not come to the plaintiff’s attention

How Can You Avoid Service Difficulties During COVID-19?

lawyer and clientAs a defendant, if there is no forensic or strategic advantage in delaying or avoiding being served by a process server, instruct your lawyers to accept the service of process on your behalf. In light of the pandemic, email is a safer and more convenient way to do this. Endorse a copy for the plaintiff, which should say that your lawyer accepted the service.

There are other alternative methods of serving agreements. For example, originating applications (or other court documents) can be served by another method agreed upon by both parties. The alternative method of service should be valid under the civil procedure rules. Emails and video calls are also acceptable ways to serve documents other than personal service.

Also, when a plaintiff’s lawyer requires arrangements for a particular method of process serving, the defendant should confirm in writing that they have the authority to accept service of it and endorse copies of the documents, which they should return to the plaintiff’s lawyer.

Finally, if effecting a service by email, request receipts (“read receipts” and “delivery receipts”) to obtain confirmation.

The pandemic sets a new normal in the process serving industry. Before you serve papers or be served documents, talk to your lawyer to learn more about process serving during COVID-19. Get in touch with Serve Index LLC, for more information.

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