Hello, and welcome to the Lafayette Process Servers LLC podcast. I’m your host Rosie sitting in for Scott, and today, I’m going to be talking about whether process servers get killed while on the job. Process serving is not a risky profession in and of itself. Of course, there are emotionally charged circumstances and the occasional person who refuses to accept that they are being served, but process servers are often received with understanding that they are simply performing their job. False depictions on TV and in movies show process servers pursuing persons with malicious intentions and defending themselves from furious characters. This is incorrect and does not improve the public’s view of process service. Most persons who receive court papers do so respectfully and without incident.
Despite the notion that there are no significant risks associated with process serving, there have been several incidents when process servers have been attacked while attempting to serve court documents. Although this occurs seldom, it does occur and is now one of the problems that process servers confront. While process serving is a risky profession, the fact is that the many harmful situations connected with process serving may be avoided by taking a few necessary precautionary measures to protect oneself. Let’s look at an instance wherein a process server was killed while trying to serve divorce papers to an angry husband, so we can then examine how we can protect ourselves from potentially being harmed while serving papers.
In a contentious divorce dispute, a Virginia lawyer engaged a process server as an independent contractor to personally serve court papers to the spouse. The lawyer was aware that the husband had a pistol and had voiced fear that the spouse may turn violent, but he did not notify the process server. The process server attempted to personally serve the spouse several times without success. When the lawyer learned that the husband was about to flee the country, he instructed the process server to do everything it took to serve the spouse as soon as possible. During the process server’s final attempt to serve the husband with divorce papers, he was shot and killed by the husband. He was later reported missing, before his remains were found in his own car three days later. The husband fled the country, and possibly went to Iraq. He has yet to be found and charged, although the process server’s widow has since obtained a civil judgement against him.
The widow of the process server sued the lawyer for wrongful death, claiming that he should have informed the process server that her husband was possibly dangerous and armed with a revolver. The lawyer responded that because the process server was an independent contractor rather than an employee, the lawyer had no legal need to inform the process server of what he knew about the spouse. Contrary to what one might expect, the courts ruled that the lawyer could not be held liable for being negligent in informing the process server that the husband owned a gun, and subsequently, they could not be held responsible for what happened to the process server.
As the court pointed out, in most cases, a person has no legal obligation to warn or protect another person from the illegal conduct of a third party. Only in the case of a particular connection does a person have a responsibility to warn or protect another from danger. In this instance, the widow requested that the court extend this responsibility to the employer/independent contractor relationship, but the court declined to do so. However, if the process server had been an actual employee of the legal firm and conducted his duties solely at its instruction, this case would have most likely been resolved in favor of the widow.
What this case and its ruling reminds us of, is that regardless of what a lawyer instructs a process server to do, it is vital for a process server to perform their own due diligence before approaching or serving a party involved in a legal dispute. This will ensure that the process server is aware of any potential dangers that may be posed by serving the party, and this will in turn, allow them to be adequately prepared.
As a process server, it is also best if they document any assaults or attempts made to assault them by the party they intended to serve. This can include making a written report of everything they can remember about the incident as soon as they are in a safe environment. Taking comprehensive notes of everything that transpired from beginning to end, including any verbal confrontations, what the party used to carry out the assault, and any injuries inflicted. If the process server is struck and has physical injuries, they should document the injuries in the form of photographs and consider going to the hospital to have the injuries tended to, regardless of how minor the injury might seem, so there is a medical record that can help prove that the assault occurred.
Then, the process server should contact the police department that has jurisdiction in the place of residence of the party. Regardless of whether the process server wants to press charges, filing a police report will ensure that an official record of the incident is made and can be referenced in the case of further legal proceedings later. These reports would also create strong documentation evidence in case a particular legislative body or jurisdiction decides to advocate for stronger and more comprehensive legislation to protect process servers from such attacks in the future. Certain states, like New York, Illinois, California, and Florida, also have process server associations, which protect their members by providing assault prevention trainings, in addition to raising public awareness, aiding the process server in pressing charges against the party in question and discussing the issue at local government meetings.
If it is deemed that the party to whom the papers must be served could potentially be dangerous, it is recommended that the process server approaches the party in a public place, such as their place of work. They would be far less likely to act up or become violent while in the presence of their colleagues, and even if they did, it would be a lot easier to seek help from the people around to deescalate the situation.
In any case, it is in the best interest of the process server to perform their due diligence before they approach someone to serve them. With unclear litigation surrounding the matter of liability and negligence on the part of lawyers to disclose potentially vital information to process servers, it falls into our own hands as independent contractors, to take all the precautionary measures required to ensure that we are safe and unharmed while trying to serve papers on someone.
Remember, if you are ever in need of experienced process servers, then Lafayette is your answer! Contact us at 1-866-237-2853 or send us an email inquiry at [email protected]. And that wraps up our episode for today. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time!
The foregoing podcast has simply been presented for informational purposes only. He or those at Lafayette Process Servers LLC are not attorneys. Laws and regulations vary among states and specific jurisdictions. If you seek further information about this topic or any other legal issues, please contact an attorney or lawyer in your local area.