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There are two parts to commencing a lawsuit in the State of Washington:

1. Filing a summons and complaint with the Clerk of the Court; and

2. Serving process on the defendant.

Service of process dates back hundreds of years and is a remnant of the English common law. No doubt rules regarding service of process were forged and refined during the Middle Ages when people lived in thatched cottages accessible only by dirt paths.

In Washington, service of process must be effectuated by the end of the statute of limitations or within 90 days of the date the lawsuit is filed. Individuals are served by being handed a copy of the summons and complaint or by having another adult resident living in the same home accept the documents. There are frequent disputes about whether defendants actually lived in the home where the complaint was served.

The existing service of process rules lead to a significant amount of unnecessary litigation. We live in a digital age where virtually every other form of notice is transmitted electronically. Even for persons without email addresses, the United States Mail is deemed sufficiently reliable to provide notice of virtually everything ranging from tax debts to lottery winnings.

While the rest of the law advances into the electronic age, service of process remains (frustratingly) mired in the past. It’s time for advancements that will save time, save money and add certainty for all parties through the legal process. Parties need to be able to litigate based on the substantive aspects of the case rather than procedures that were first memorialized with a quill.


  1. Gravatar for Carlos Frontela

    Mail doesn't ensure anyone that they are receiving their notices. If you check into jurisdictions which employs a mail only system, you will see a high rate of people that have not been served. These people will never receive proper notification regarding service of process and they will never get to defend their cases.

  2. Gravatar for Michael Myers

    Thanks for commenting, Carlos. The majority of our work is in Washington. Service by mail is allowed but only under narrow circumstances. Are you aware of states that allow it as a matter of course?

  3. Gravatar for William Eadie

    The federal system offers an interesting alternative, whereby the plaintiff can request, via mail, that the defendant waive service. If the defendant refuses without good cause, the costs of service are charged against them.

    Thus, the reality of modern mail transmission, and its lower costs, are incorporated into the judicial process, but the older (and more reliable) service system is preserved for cases where the defendant has a particular need (or where the plaintiff doesn't bother to take advantage of the waiver system).


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