What Exactly Can a Process Server Do To Serve Papers?

In a personal injury case seeking economic damages (and possibly non-economic damages) in, for example, a car accident, “serving process” is absolutely critical. In service of process, the plaintiff notifies the defendant in writing of the proceedings against them through a third party. The third party must have no stake in the dispute. 

Typically, the third party is a sheriff, a constable, or some other authorized person. A private party (not a law enforcement official) can serve process if the Texas Supreme Court authorizes them to. 

What Kind of “Papers” Do You Have To Serve?

In a personal injury lawsuit, you initiate the lawsuit by filing a formal written complaint, paying a filing fee, and serving process on the defendant(s). Serving process means sending them at least two documents (i) a copy of the complaint and (ii) a summons to court so they will know when and where to show up to avoid a default judgment against them.

The papers should also notify the defendant how long they have to file a formal answer to the complaint.

What a Process Server Is Allowed To Do

A process server can utilize the below-described means to serve process on a defendant, depending on the circumstances.

Personal Service

The most effective way to serve process is to confront the defendant personally. The defendant does not have to sign the papers, accept them, or even touch them. The process server can even drop the papers at the feet of an uncooperative defendant.

Creative Methods of Service

A process server can use creative means to accomplish their objective. If they know that the defendant is a member of Toastmasters, for example, they can join the club for the sole purpose of serving the defendant. 

Service by Mail

If the process server cannot serve the defendant in person after repeated efforts, they can ask a judge to allow them to serve the defendant by certified mail, return receipt requested. The judge may or may not grant this request.

Leaving the Papers With a Competent Adult at Your Residence

A judge might also allow a frustrated process server to hand the papers to any competent adult at the defendant’s residence. The person who receives the papers must be at least 18 years old. Of course, this is a relatively unreliable means of notifying a defendant of a personal injury lawsuit against them. 

What a Process Server Is Not Allowed To Do

A process server is not allowed to use the following tactics.


A process server cannot trespass in the defendant’s home, car, or other property. They cannot search through the defendant’s mailbox or physically place anything inside of it—that would violate federal law. 

It is almost needless to say that a process server cannot break into the defendant’s home. Arguably, a process server cannot even enter the defendant’s yard, since they are aware that the defendant would not welcome their presence there. 

Using Force or Violence

A process server is not a bounty hunter or a “repo man.” They cannot run a defendant’s car off the road, tackle a defendant, or put them in a wrestling hold just to serve them with papers.

Using Deception

A process server can use creative means to serve papers, but they cannot outright lie. In particular, a process server cannot impersonate a law enforcement officer. They cannot show up in a police officer’s uniform even if they do not claim to be a police officer. Please note, however, that some process servers really are law enforcement officers.

Consider Settlement Negotiations Before Filing a Lawsuit

Service of process only becomes necessary once you file a lawsuit. You don’t have to serve process to settle a claim out of court. Since settlement is easier, cheaper, and less stressful than courtroom drama, consider it as an option.

A Lawyer Can Help You Find a Way To Serve a Stubborn Defendant

Serving process on a defendant usually isn’t terribly difficult, even if they are stubborn. In some cases it can be a challenge, however. Once you are successful, however, you can commence the process of seeking compensation in court.

Contact the Texas Personal Injury Lawyers of The Law Firm of Alton C. Todd Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today

Please contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at The Law Firm of Alton C. Todd Personal Injury Lawyers to get a free initial consultation today. We have offices in Friendswood and Galveston, Texas. Call us at (281) 992-8633.

The Law Firm of Alton C. Todd Personal Injury Lawyers – Galveston
2101 Mechanic St. Suite 253
Galveston, TX 77550

The Law Firm of Alton C. Todd Personal Injury Lawyers
312 S. Friendswood Dr.
Friendswood, TX 77546