The reason the courts require formal service of process is to ensure that the defendant is aware of the legal action and has the opportunity to respond. This transparency and due process are essential for upholding the integrity of the legal system and ensuring fair outcomes for all parties involved.

You’ve Been Served!

In TV shows and movies featuring legal processes, you will sometimes see a person on the street being tricked into accepting a stack of papers, and hear the phrase, “You’ve been served!” This is a dramatic way of serving notification of a legal action, but it’s usually much less interesting.

A process server will most often attempt to serve the legal papers at the defendant’s home or place of business. This is because that’s where it is easiest to find them. Most people do not attempt to avoid service of process or run from the process server, but we’ve heard all kinds of stories.

The Role of a Process Server

At the core of service of process lies the process server. These individuals play a pivotal role in the legal system by delivering official notifications to parties involved in a lawsuit. Whether it’s delivering court summons, subpoenas, or other legal documents, process servers ensure that all parties are aware of the legal proceedings against them.

In Virginia, process servers must adhere to specific guidelines and requirements outlined in state law. This includes rules regarding who can serve process, acceptable methods of service, and documentation requirements to prove that service has been completed. Sheriffs and their deputies often serve lawsuits for a small fee paid to the clerk of court, but you can also hire a private process server.

Rules For Service Of Process In Virginia

Here are the key rules for service of process in Virginia:

Who Can Serve Process

In Virginia, process may be served by any person who is at least 18 years old and not a party to the case. This individual must be appointed by the court or authorized under Virginia law to serve process.

Methods Of Service

Service of process in Virginia can be accomplished through various methods, including personal service, substituted service, and service by publication.

  • Personal service involves delivering the legal documents directly to the defendant.
  • Substituted service allows for service to be made on another person of suitable age and discretion at the defendant’s usual place of abode or business. Substituted service may also be authorized by statute, for example to permit service of a non-resident negligent driver by serving Virginia’s Secretary of the Commonwealth. Va. Code § 8.01-329. There are specific requirements about who can be served under substituted service.
  • Service by publication is permitted in certain circumstances, but it is by far the least desirable method of achieving service of process.

Timeliness Of Service

Service of process must be made within a specified time frame after the filing of the lawsuit, as outlined in the Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. Failure to serve within this time frame may result in dismissal of the case or other procedural consequences.

Proof Of Service

In Virginia, proof of service must be filed with the court to document that service has been completed properly. This may include a sworn affidavit or a return of service signed by the person who served the process.

Special Circumstances

Certain types of cases or defendants may require special procedures for service of process. For example, service on a corporation may involve serving an officer or registered agent, while service on a minor or incapacitated person may require additional steps to ensure proper notification.

Out-of-state Defendants

If the defendant is located outside of Virginia or the jurisdiction where you are filing, special rules may apply for serving process. This may involve compliance with the laws of the state where the defendant is located or using alternative methods of service, such as through a designated registered agent for service of process.

Consequences Of Bad Service

Imagine a scenario where a person files a lawsuit against a negligent driver for causing a serious truck accident. The plaintiff, or filing party, does not ask the clerk of court to authorize the sheriff to serve the lawsuit to the bad driver, and also fails to hire a private service provider thereafter. In this case, the lawsuit may be jeopardized if the service of process is not completed in the one-year timeframe allowed by law.

The time-frame for legal service of process in Virginia medical malpractice lawsuits is one year.

Strategic Reasons For Delaying Service

In certain situations, strategic considerations may warrant delaying service of process. For example, in personal injury cases, the plaintiff’s attorney may choose to delay service to gather additional evidence, such as medical records, to support the case fully or to secure the opinion of a medical expert to certify the case. Allowing the plaintiff to continue ongoing medical recovery or obtain all necessary documentation, such as medical bills, can strengthen the lawsuit’s position and increase the chances of a favorable outcome.


In conclusion, the service of process in Virginia is a fundamental aspect of legal proceedings, ensuring that defendants are properly notified of legal actions against them. Timely and accurate service is crucial for maintaining the validity of lawsuits and upholding the principles of fairness and due process in the legal system. While delays in service may occur for strategic reasons, it’s essential to adhere to legal requirements and procedural rules to preserve the integrity of the judicial process.

Wallace Wason, PLLC has established relationships with process servers throughout Virginia, Maryland and in the District of Columbia, allowing us to serve process on defendants in all jurisdictions we serve, regardless of any complications. Call us today for a free case evaluation (703) 638-7717.

This article is published by Wallace Wason, PLLC to explain general legal principles. It is not intended as a comprehensive treatise on the subject. The law contains many variables and exceptions, not all of which would be addressed or explained herein. Specific questions about any individual case should be addressed to our attorneys.

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