One distressing part of litigation is that someone comes to the defendant’s
office—a police officer or sheriff in uniform—and demands to hand the health
care practitioner personally the documents alleging wrongdoing. This is called
service of process, and it begins the timetable on the various parts of the
lawsuit. The papers that begin the lawsuit, as well as papers that announce
certain other critical events, are served personally to ensure that the party
being sued is notified of the lawsuit. The ignominy of being served personally
is preferable to missing a deadline that can irretrievably compromise a
defendant’s legal rights.
Defendants are always advised to accept service politely; process servers have
no interest in the litigation, and there is no justification for vilifying them.
There is also a risk to dodging service. Dodging service in the office may result
in being served at church, the country club, or another acutely embarrassing
A medical care practitioner who is served legal papers should call his or her
insurance company and attorney—not the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney. A
copy of the papers should be retained, with the date and time of service
carefully noted. Once the defendant’s attorney has filed a reply to the plaintiff’s
allegations, most of the succeeding documents are sent to the defendant’s
attorney without the need for personal service.