I Just Got Served Papers! Now What Do You Do?

I can speak from experience.

Not only have I been served before, I have been on the other side too, serving people papers. In another life, I was a process server. But before that, I was a kid working two jobs and going to college all the while without health insurance. Bear with me as I give you a little bit of background.

First came a late night of drinking. Then came a dumb drunk move on my bicycle. Then a giant swelled-up purple and green ankle. Then after some quality care at a great American hospital I received a giant swelled-up bill, thousands of dollars that I was responsible for. So shortly thereafter I was served legal papers so that the various billing parties could garnish my wages and get their money. My stubborn, young, empty, angst-riddled wallet certainly wasn't going to open up on it's own! Boy did I play the fool back then.

Here's the thing, if you get served, it's not the end of the world. It certainly may feel that way I know. But whatever you do, please do not kill the messenger. Granted, not all Process Servers and Sheriff's are cheery, happy little flowers that will perk right up when they have served you a summons. But believe it or not, they are working for you as much as they are working for the party that is suing you. Take it in perspective. Whether you get served or not, whoever you owe money to, or owe a day in court to for whatever reason, they're going to get you there one way or another. If you have been served, you get to see it coming. If you avoid it, or say, "The hell with this, I'm not doing this!" If a judge finds out that's your sentiment, here comes a warrant out for you. Or maybe they go to your bank and just take the money. Or you get pulled over with a broken signal on your car and they see the warrant, guess where you're headed? To the AutoZone to get a new blinker bulb? Nope, to the Big House my friend. Then straight to court. There are also any other number of things that are legal to do but that most people don't realize.

This is not as bad as you might think....

Someone just served you legal papers, how should you respond?
Someone just served you legal papers, how should you respond?

Play It Smart Cochise.

So don't be a block head. Don't yell or threaten the person serving you, please! You don't yell at the Letter Carrier when she brings you your huge credit card bill do you? Take a look at the legal papers in front of you. If it's a Subpoena there's good news and bad news. The good news is there's often a check attached, cash money. But mainly it's because they want you to testify. If it is a Subpoena, or a Rule, be extra careful. These are the two most strict legal documents you could receive, whatever's going on at this point is pretty damn important. The bad news is, if you avoid one of these documents, it might mean they instantly issue a warrant for you.

If it's a Summons or a Citation, somewhere, usually at the top is the most important information. The court date, location, time, etc. Sometimes the reason is on the front page, sometimes it's on one of many, many, many pages thereafter.

Usually there will be a contact number for the law firm that is suing you at the bottom of the page. Lots of people try calling and getting out of their court date, good luck. You may have a million and one chance of that. If you have a way to 100% resolve the legal dispute, say you know you owe $2000 bucks and you call and say you can pay it, they may accept this, still not likely though. But here's where a lot of people go wrong. They don't realize that getting served and going to court can possibly work in your advantage. This is a chance for you to try to negotiate your debt, or whatever problem it is you have. Running away from your service is like tipping the checkers board over when you sit down to play, it makes you look infantile.

Take service for what it is, your right. You know why we have process serving? Because in the old days of Merry Old England if they would post a notice somewhere in town and if you didn't see it, you missed your date. Then they threw you in debtors prison. So in other words, as legal systems have evolved, they try to give people a chance to defend themselves first. This is your chance, don't blow it. Don't play the fool.

So when the day comes, go to your court date. Responsibility pays off. Don't spend your life creating alias' and wondering which furniture to hide behind when the doorbell rings. Take the reigns, or someone will take them for you.

Look for legal advice, it's out there. You can find it. Look for my next article on how to find legal help, or call in that favor to that distant relative you know who knows a guy. Take care, you'll be better off if you do.

You've been served!

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Comments 12 comments

sarmack profile image

sarmack 6 years ago from Washington

This will be very helpful for a lot of people. Legal issues escalate when economy continues to decline. A friend of mine was just served about a month ago. Do you have any advice for a person who is under a protective order? i.e., he was served and the judge ruled against him. He continues to talk to people about his spouse. Will that get him in trouble?

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Sarmack! I wish I could give advice but I would be telling tales out of school in that department. From a layperson's perspective though, I'd say he should look at all the text in the protective order and examine the consequences. Also, he can search for legal advice at the library, the internet or his local town hall, hope that helps!


Laura in Denver profile image

Laura in Denver 6 years ago from Aurora

One note here: I would recommend NOT taking process when one is in the hospital.

Depending on the reason you are there, you may not be able to deal with it in a timely manner, obviously!

I suggest telling the hospital staff to inform the server that you will deal with it when you are released.

Do plaintiffs knowingly serve defendants in hospital? You bet! Surprise can be an excellent tactic, especially for unscrupulous lawyers and savvy litigants!

I do recall a case where there was some politician who kindly(?) served his wife divorce papers as she was being treated for cancer in the hospital...

Bad PR when the newpaper go ahold of this little tidbit!!!

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Laura! Great hat, I am of the western kind havin' been raised in West Allis in Wisconsin. Anyway, I am a bit embarrassed to admit I had served a few folks in the hospital as you mention above. For some of them they are wards of the state and they usually have a social worker who helps them with their legal work.


J. McCoy profile image

J. McCoy 6 years ago from CA (originally)

You couldn't have better timing with this, Ben. Really good advice.

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks J!!!

I hope you get the upper hand on whatever problem you may have to contend with, at least now you got the heads-up that it's time to play ball. Swing hard!



kims3003 6 years ago

Very well done hub with lots of helpful information.

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

danks kims3003 yer a swell babe, I aims ta please, you aim to please!


stars439 profile image

stars439 5 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Enjoyed your hub. I use to get Supoenas for jury duty a lot, and one to be on the federal jury. I had excuses however to help my wife with our disabled daughter. Had a chance to be on some jurys for murder cases. Boring. God Bless You. Great hubs.

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thank you for the always-kind words stars!I was on a jury once, for me it was a nice diversion from my factory job!


Amber 4 years ago

I got a call from my neighbor while I was out of town saying that a police officer was knocking on my door. Obviously I'm concerned, so I start calling my local and county police departments. Apparently they were there to serve civil papers on me for my delinquent rental agreement. (My furniture, washer and dryer is from a rental company) I quit making payments nearly a month ago and TOLD the company I wasn't going to be making anymore payments because they damaged the side of my home one day by banging on the siding. There are dents all in the vinyl siding. What's more, they littered my entire yard with their flyers, put sticky notes with their company Logo all around my van on ALL FOUR sides, windows, windshield and ALL, left pens dropped all over my yard AND went through my mail box. I, of course, took pictures of everything, including the damages to the vinyl siding and emailed them to the divisional manager of this company and explained that I felt I was harassed and badgered and they would need to pay for the repairs before I made another payment. PLEASE give me some advice! The siding will cost hundreds to fix!! Is there ANY WAY that I can come out on top?

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 4 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Amber, as I am not a lawyer I cannot give you legal advice. As someone with process serving experience (in Illinois) my guess would be that, if I understand you correctly, your property was damaged by the process server and not the rental house representative correct? If this is the case I believe they are separate cases, you need to make an appearance for the rental case with or without legal representation. Then, especially if you have solid proof/evidence as you say you do, you need to file a small claims complaint against the process service company and/or hire an attourney to do this for you. If there happened to be an equitable balance between your debt and the damage from the other that would be a happy coincidence for you but would have no actual bearing on the two cases seperately, I believe. I hope this helps, seek out local legal guidance from your county or city government if you can't afford one on your own, and/or visit the library and do some of your own research.

Hope this helps and best of luck! Your story does not make me miss my old job! I am currently moving forward with my dream career as an artist.


Ben Zoltak

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