Nearly 2,500 years ago Sophocles wrote, “Don’t kill the messenger.” Being the bearer of bad news has always been a bit of a dangerous job.
Process servers daily put themselves in the direct paths of vulnerable and sometimes angry people during their absolute worst moments. People being served can be unpredictable. Most of the time, being a process server is not a dangerous job. Most process servers are able to do their jobs without incident 95 percent of the time.
But there have been some tragedies. Stephen Allen of Loveland, CO, was beaten and stabbed to death in May 2008 when he tried to serve divorce papers. Incidents like that one are simply vivid reminders that process servers need to be vigilant about protecting their safety.
Here are some basic tips for protecting process server safety on the job:
1. Always tell someone where you are going and who you are serving. This could be your spouse, friend, co-worker or client. Someone should know where you are.
2. Know the neighborhood where you’re serving the papers. Look it up online or on a map to get a feel for the area and learn how to get around.
3. Park close to where you’re going. You probably won’t be at the subject’s residence for long so it’s typically not a problem to park illegally in the name of convenience and safety.
4. Be calm and courteous and try to soothe your subjects. They are, after all, are potentially receiving bad news from you. The more understanding you seem, the less threatening you will be to them.
5. Try to avoid going to dangerous areas to serve papers. Learn about your subject’s routine. Doing some homework ahead of time can save you the stress of putting yourself in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. Know the best, most convenient, easiest and safest place to contact your subject.
6. Don’t serve the person if the other party in the suit is present. The presence of the other party can make emotions sharper and could endanger the other party as well as the process server.
7. Know about the person you are going to serve. Ask your client if the person is prone to violent outbursts when angry or if he or she owns weapons.
8. If you are concerned the person could be a threat, consider taking another person with you. Having someone sit in the passenger seat can be a deterrent and will be helpful if the person you’re serving does react poorly.
9. You can also consider calling the police or sheriff to ask for an escort. You will have to coordinate the timing well.
10. If the person you are serving could be a threat, it’s a good idea to try to contact him or her in a public place where he or she is less likely to act out violently and where there will be people to help if there is a problem.
Process servers do not have an inherently dangerous job, but it is important for servers to do what they need to do in order to stay safe. This list of common sense tips is not comprehensive. There is, of course, more process servers can do to preserve their own safety. Just examine each job individually and do what feels most comfortable.