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To be served or not to be served (with a lawsuit)…that is the question.

Posted by Brian Hallaq | Apr 17, 2024 | 0 Comments

When you owe money to someone, their options to recover that money are generally legal in nature.  If the debt is unsecured (such as medical bills, or credit card debt), that legal process starts with being “served” with the lawsuit to provide you notice of your right to defend.

Most people understand that when a strange person is at your door with some paperwork in their hands, it could be a process server, and so in many cases they avoid opening the door.  The logic here is simple.  If I'm not served the lawsuit doesn't go anywhere and I'm safe.

That is not always a great assumption.  Process servers are very good at their jobs and there are often many legal loopholes that allow them to state in an affidavit to the court that you received notice of the lawsuit against you, even if you never physically saw the paperwork.  In my jurisdiction of Washington, they can leave the paperwork with a co-resident “of suitable age and discretion”, which might mean that they gave the lawsuit to your 12-year-old, who promptly threw it in the garbage.  They can also provide “constructive” notice.  One of the new ways that has been happening is to leave a “Hey we missed you” paper stuck to your door with a QR code that you access with your telephone.  You might think that they were trying to deliver a package and inadvertently click the QR code…it will usually ask you for some identifying information like your address or the last 4 digits of your social security number, and when you click it…bam…you have been served.

So, there are a couple of things to keep in mind here.  If you are trying to fly under the radar, you should assume that the process server will eventually serve you, or find an alternate method of perfecting service and you should focus more on protecting your assets than hiding behind the couch when the process server rings the doorbell.

On the other hand, if you are planning on filing for Bankruptcy (which most people end up doing in this situation), and you know that you will have the funds to hire an attorney soon, I would advise you to accept the service of the paperwork.  Open the door.  Don't make a scene.  Just take the paperwork and close the door.


Because when we are trying to eliminate your debts in a Bankruptcy more information is better than less information.  It is far more effective for your Bankruptcy attorney to know about lawsuits and collection activity so that he/she/they can list those parties on your Bankruptcy schedules.  In particular, it can be a problem when your wages are being garnished and your employer's payroll department is not being forthcoming with the contact information of the law firm that is performing the garnishment.  In that situation, not knowing who is collecting against you can make it hard to stop the garnishment in a timely manner.

So, if someone is trying to serve you, it is more important to develop a debt reduction plan (either Bankruptcy or non-Bankruptcy) than to rely upon simply avoiding the dreaded process server.  If you are not filing for Bankruptcy, you should focus on preserving your assets and coming up with a plan to pay off your debt in a reasonable window of time.

In the case of filing for Bankruptcy it is much better to meet the challenge head on, collect as much information as possible, and give that information to your Bankruptcy attorney in order to accurately list all of your debts on your Bankruptcy schedules.

About the Author

Brian Hallaq

My name is Brian and I have been a practicing attorney in Bankruptcy for over 20 years helping thousands of clients.  I have worked for the Chief Judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington, as well as several small boutique Bankruptcy law firms handling Bankruptcy cases in Washington State and the State of California.  I have litigated for and against major banks, and I have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of clients in my career.


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