When a plaintiff pursues a personal injury lawsuit as a result of a motor vehicle accident in Illinois, it is imperative to properly serve the defendant with a complaint and summons. Failure to properly serve a defendant may be fatal to a plaintiff’s case. Under Supreme Court Rule 103(b), a plaintiff is required to exercise due diligence in their attempts to serve the defendant, and failure to do so may result in the dismissal of the case. To determine the proper method of service, or the act of physically giving the complaint and summons to the defendant, a plaintiff must evaluate the amount of their damages and ascertain the location of the defendant.
To determine the proper method of service upon an individual, the plaintiff must first evaluate and determine the approximate amount of their damages.
When Damages Claimed From a Car Accident Are Less Than $10,000
The amount of damages claimed as a result of a car or truck accident may include mental and physical injuries, pain and suffering, medical bills incurred for treatment of injuries, lost wages, and property damage, such as vehicle damage. In Illinois, a lawsuit that seeks less than $10,000 in monetary damages is considered a small claims case. According to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 284, service of process in a small claims case can be done via certified mail, rather than personal service. The plaintiff must pay the clerk of the court a nominal fee of two dollars plus the cost of mailing. The clerk will issue an original and one copy of a summons. The complaint, with an affidavit providing the defendant’s last known mailing address, must be given to the clerk for mailing.
When Damages Claimed From a Car Accident Are Greater Than $10,000
If the monetary damages exceed $10,000, then the plaintiff must obtain either “personal” or “substitute” service on the defendant pursuant to section 2-203 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. For personal service, the complaint and summons must be placed with the sheriff in the County where the defendant resides to serve upon the individual personally. For substitute service, the defendant may be served at their usual place of abode by leaving a copy of the complaint and summons with a family member or a person residing there over the age of thirteen (13). The officer must inform the individual of the contents and must also mail a separate copy of the complaint and summons to the residence of the Defendant. As an alternative to utilizing a sheriff, the plaintiff may seek leave of court to hire a private process server to serve the Defendant in the same manner.
If the defendant lives outside the state of Illinois, service can also be performed upon the at-fault motorist pursuant to Illinois’ Guest Statute. For Defendants residing outside the state of Illinois, the Plaintiff may serve the Illinois Secretary of State. The Guest Statute provides that if a person used or operated a vehicle in the state of Illinois, it shall be deemed an appointment by said person that the Secretary of State may be “his true and lawful attorney upon whom may be served all legal process in any action or proceeding against him.” The statute prevents non-resident defendants from causing injuries to Illinois citizens in a vehicle crash and then attempting to evade service of process.
Occasionally, a defendant will attempt to evade or “duck” service of process, thus making service by traditional means impractical. In these situations, a plaintiff may bring a motion before the Court for leave to serve a Defendant by special order of court. The Plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) service has become impractical and (2) must provide an affidavit stating the nature and extent of the investigation to determine the whereabouts of the defendant and the reasons service by traditional means has become impractical. If granted, the Court will permit the Plaintiff to serve the defendant in any manner consistent with “Due Process.” Courts typically allow a Plaintiff to serve an evasive defendant by mailing a copy of the complaint and summons via regular and certified mail.
Obtaining proper service upon a defendant in car accident cases, like other personal injury cases, is important. If service is not done properly, the lawsuit could be dismissed, leaving the plaintiff unable to obtain a recovery against the at-fault driver. In order to maximize your recovery after your motor vehicle accident, you must find a lawyer who understands the proper method to serve a defendant. If you or your loved one has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, you should immediately contact a knowledgeable attorney.