WA Case Update: Painting in the Lines: Substitute Service Strictly Construed

From the desk of Kyle D. Riley: When a plaintiff in a motor vehicle accident related claim is unable to serve process on a defendant by normal means, will service on the Secretary of State and notice to the defendant’s attorney be effective to serve the defendant? Read on to see what is required for a party to effect service on a party under Washington’s “nonresident” service statute.

Claims Pointer: In this auto accident case, the Washington Court of Appeals held that substitute service under RCW 46.64.040 must comply strictly with the statutory requirements. In the following case, a plaintiff’s claim was dismissed for lack of service within the statute of limitations. Service was ineffective because the plaintiff failed to send the required documents by registered mail to the defendant’s last known address. Furthermore, the defendant did not waive his right to challenge service of process due to delay because plaintiff was not prejudiced by the delay.

Heinzig v. Hwang, No. 72269-7-I, Washington Court of Appeals, Div. 1, (June 29, 2015).

Mark Heinzig filed a negligence suit against Seok Hwang after the two were involved in a motor vehicle accident in Washington. The crash occurred on June 5, 2010 and Heinzig filed suit on May 13, 2013. The statute of limitations for negligence is 3 years in Washington, but that period is tolled for 90 days after a complaint is filed. Heinzig hired a process server on May 14 to personally serve Hwang. Heinzig’s attorney sent an email to Hwang’s attorney with the summons and complaint. Hwang’s attorney responded, “Got it. Thanks.” The process server was unable to serve Hwang and sent a signed “Declaration of Diligence” to Heinzig’s attorney.

On June 4, Heinzig’s attorney mailed a letter to the Washington Secretary of State in which he stated that he was unable to serve Hwang. With the letter, Heinzig enclosed two copies of the summons and complaint and the process server’s “Declaration of...

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