The civil litigation process involves many technical rules, procedures, and deadlines that must be strictly adhered to by a plaintiff seeking financial compensation. While these procedural hurdles might seem like “technical details” to many injury victims, the civil litigation process can be unforgiving when parties without legal representation try to navigate these traps for the unwary. In many cases, this type of procedural misstep could result in dismissal of a personal injury lawsuit that is otherwise with merit. In this blog post, our personal injury lawyers examine an appellate court decision involving a motion for dismissal based on a claim that service was not effective.
The plaintiff was involved in a collision with a school bus. She believed the school bus driver’s negligence caused the collision. The complaint filed in the personal injury lawsuit alleged the school district also was responsible based on a negligent hiring theory. While a lawsuit against a public entity like a school district will involve special procedures and a timely notice of claim, the procedural issue raised by the defense in this lawsuit applies to all civil litigation.
The defense filed a motion to dismiss based on the grounds that the school district was never properly served with the summons and complaint. The plaintiff hired a process server who went to the school district offices to inquire about where she should serve the documents commencing the lawsuit. The person at the front desk directed the process server to the human resources department. When the process service spoke to the receptionist in that department, the receptionist called a supervisor to ask who the appropriate party was to accept service of the complaint. The receptionist to the Deputy Superintendent was directed by her supervisor to accept service. The process server left the documents with the receptionist.
The motion to dismiss filed by the school district argued that the service of process was improper. The district contended that the plaintiff was required to serve the “chief executive officer” of the school district or his or her clerk. Because service was left with another staff member, the district concluded service was not effective.
The appellate court rejected this contention noting that the school district failed to provide any legal or contractual basis for its position. Since the burden to prove improper service of the summons and complaint falls upon the defense, the school district had the obligation to explain why service was defective. The unsupported conclusions of the school district did not meet this burden. The lawsuit was allowed to move forward to trial.
Proper service of process constitutes just one procedural requirement that must be performed correctly to successfully pursue a personal injury lawsuit. When pursuing a claim against a public entity, the process is complicated by additional procedural steps including providing timely notice. The window within which to provide this notice usually will be much shorter than the statute of limitations. If notice is untimely, the plaintiff typically loses the right to pursue a claim against the government entity. This can be a devastating consequence if other potential defendants lack insurance or sufficient assets to satisfy a judgment.
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While navigating these complex procedural obstacles can be confusing, our experienced attorneys guide our clients past such obstacles. Our lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance clients need to pursue the results they desire. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.