Washington Case Law Update: How to Serve Motorist Defendant via Secretary of State

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Washington Case Law Update: How to Serve Motorist Defendant via Secretary of State

From the desk of Kyle D. Riley: Washington law permits a plaintiff to serve a motorist defendant through the secretary of state provided they exercise due diligence in trying to find the defendant.  However, this alternate form of service has long been believed to require filing affidavits of compliance with the trial court.  In this case, the Court of Appeals reviewed the relevant statute and announced the requirements it imposes on plaintiffs to effect proper service.

Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of a motor vehicle accident, the Washington Court of Appeals held: 1) that the applicable statute does not require filing an affidavit of compliance with the trial court; 2) that a defendant’s “last known address” is based on plaintiff’s reasonable belief; and 3) that a plaintiff need not attempt service at all of a defendant’s known past addresses.  The case clarifies the requirements a plaintiff must meet in order to successfully serve a motorist defendant through the secretary of state, a key consideration when moving to dismiss certain claims.

Corinn James and Ian James v. Casey McMurry et al., No. 47495-6-II, Washington Court of Appeals, Div. II. (July 19, 2016).

In December 2011, Casey McMurry (“McMurry”) caused a collision with a car driven by Corinn and Ian James (“the Jameses”).  In December 2014, nearly a full three years later, the Jameses filed a complaint against McMurry alleging negligence.  The same day, the Jameses hired a private investigator to find McMurry’s current address for service of process.  The Jameses then attempted personal service twice each at the addresses the investigator indicated were most current.  After those efforts failed, they twice attempted personal service at another address they believed to belong to McMurry’s girlfriend, but they were again unsuccessful.

The Jameses then attempted service via the...

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