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Personal injury claims: Do the wrongful prevail?

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

People fake injuries all the time. And they get paid for it.

Wrongful claims are common, and because of them, private investigators are usually needed to really dig into the situation to help the parties involved reach a decision as to whether the claimant is being truthful.

“The video doesn’t lie,” Bob Fischer, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., says in regard to the surveillance that takes place in these cases.

And he’s right. What evidence would be more effective than actual footage of the claimant? Video, for the most part, is totally objective and can show whether a person is faking his or her injury.

“We don’t have to do anything to enhance or embellish it,” Bob says. “We just film it, and it speaks for itself.”

The most popular type of fraud we see take place at Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc. is workers’ compensation fraud. Right after that are slip and fall cases. There are also medical malpractice suits, staged car accident injuries, and people claiming injuries that are difficult to detect, such as soft tissue injuries.

But we have to keep in mind that not everyone is trying to be devious. People actually do get hurt and deserve some sort of compensation for it. However, we have to keep our eyes open for those who try to beat the system.

So, where do private investigators fit into the picture?

Surveillance is usually done on all cases as part of the case work-up, and most of it is done on slip and fall and traffic accidents, where the person is claiming an injury or is claiming he or she is unable to do certain things or lost quality of life. With medical malpractice, the subject is claiming the doctor performed a wrong procedure, resulting in a loss of quality of life.

“They can’t bowl anymore. They can’t golf anymore. They can’t walk for miles like they used to or bicycle ride,” Bob explains.

Surveillance operators usually go out and surveil the individuals for two or three days, and after that, they’re able to determine whether the person is telling the truth. These services are usually ordered by the insurance adjuster or the attorney, based on the claim and/or statements made by the claimant.

Sometimes, the attorney will simply have a gut feeling that someone is lying. It can be something the person said or the types of bills being turned in for medical procedures that will raise red flags. Just as the adjusters deal with these types of cases all the time, so do attorneys. So, they know what to look for and what’s common or uncommon. This when investigators are brought into the picture and it is decided the case is going to be fought not settled.

To prevent bias, private investigators may avoid asking the client, whether it’s an attorney or an adjuster, what the case is about. Knowing what the claimed injury is could naturally cause investigators to look for certain cues, even if this is not done intentionally. If they have to testify in court, their behinds will be covered if they are oblivious to the injury.

If the P.I. has to get on the stand and is asked, “Did you know beforehand that this individual had a back problem?,” the response would be, “No, we did not.”

It may be asked again, “Oh, you didn’t?”

And the P.I. will respond, “No, we did not.”

Investigators regularly have to appear in court and authenticate their work on these cases. They authenticate the surveillance tapes, verifying they’re the ones who performed the work, what they saw, they did not alter the tapes, this is what they do for a living, and that they are licensed. Dozens of questions are asked while they’re on the stand. And although these investigators and their work are legitimate, others will try to disqualify them based upon their histories or their licensing. However, the attorneys hiring these investigators will usually have counter questions to emphasize and bring to light their credibility.

So, any possibility of being biased toward the claimant can automatically and truthfully be denied if the P.I. is never made aware of the injury when introduced to the case. If the video footage clearly shows the person is lying and does not have a back problem, for instance, the investigator does not want to be accused of pinpointing that portion of the surveillance or setting it up in any way.

Sometimes, surveillance isn’t done at all because what the person is claiming is obvious.

But sometimes, attorneys are so over-zealous to get something on the plaintiff that they’ll ask the investigators, “Well, you know, they’re claiming a back injury. Can you set something up where they pick something up?” This used to happen more often in the past but is not so frequent anymore because there are laws against this type of behavior. It’s ironic: Attorneys are all about getting to the truth of the matter, but this type of request definitely goes against that ideal.

Say the subject is a male, and an attractive girl is strategically placed at the back of the guy’s business. She has a heavy box that she needs help picking up and put into her car or something along those lines. She will wait for the guy to come out and will then flirt with him and ask him for assistance.

“Of course, injured or not injured, guys will do anything to make it with a woman,” Bob says. The guy will go over and pick up the box, and then we see it’s clear there is no obvious injury present.

“To me,” Bob says, “that’s entrapment.” He believes this is how the court has ruled on these types of situations.

There have been times where we’ve done surveillance on people claiming one thing, but the video will show something different. For instance, there was a woman who used to do daily bike rides and claimed she was no longer able to ride her bicycle. She said she couldn’t play with her grandchildren and the like. Surveillance was done, and she was videoed doing a 10-mile bike ride without stopping. Footage was taken from a high vantage point in her backyard, and she was seen diving into the swimming pool. Her family came over, and she was throwing the grandchildren up in the air and catching them.

Once again, the video doesn’t lie.

Aside from surveillance, it’s examined whether the individual is being litigious. Maybe this person has sued in the past for the same kinds of things, possibly in other states where he or she has previously lived. Some people do this professionally. And if this is common behavior for the individual, it will show in the background checks. If what the person is doing borders on criminal behavior, he or she can be arrested and charged with perjury.

Most of the time, when information is presented to the attorney as to what’s going to be presented in court, the attorney will advise the person to drop the case. I’ll give an example of what would be considered criminal. The subject of this story planned a whole scheme and was eventually charged with fraud against the court. Bob believes he did some time for it.

This guy, we’ll call him Sam, was at a bar sitting next to someone, talking about his plot. However, we were unable to record this conversation because taping someone’s conversation intended to be private is against the law. But we were able to testify in court. We were able to get the name of the person Sam was talking to and subpoenaed him as a witness. Then, what the investigator overheard was confirmed.

“So, it’s not always surveillance that gets them,” Bob explains.

Some insurance adjusters will not opt for surveillance because of money. They’ll only have a policy limit of $300,000, for example, while the person is claiming $1,000,000. So, they don’t want to spend the money because they know somewhere along the line, they’ll probably settle for $400,000 or $500,000 in this case. From the adjuster’s standpoint, they only want to spend the money when they feel it’s necessary. If they’ve already decided after reading the case file that they are going to settle, they aren’t going to hire an investigator, and they’re not going to do any work on it.

Not every adjuster wants to roll the dice unless something comes up in discovery, in the medical records, or in background checks, which are always researched, that points them in the direction that this person may have had a claim once before for the same kind of injury. With some adjusters, they will work every case the exact same way. They will spend the same amount of money on every case they do. They will do the surveillance. They will do the background checks. They will do everything necessary to disprove the person’s claim so they can get a defense verdict and not have to pay the limits on the policy.

The sad truth is, if the claimant is lying, he or she will probably get away with it. It’s just the way the legal system works, especially when people are worried about money. So, to be completely broad, the options for someone faking injuries are:

  • The person is fined.
  • The person is imprisoned.
  • The person gets away with it.

Sometimes, a settlement is offered in the beginning, but the defendant’s side may not want to accept and goes for being awarded the large amount of money. However, if they lose the case, they are responsible for all court costs. If they win the case but are awarded less than originally intended, they are responsible for paying those costs as well.

So, as we see here, the role of the P.I. is crucial. And something as simple as surveillance can either make or break the claimant’s assertion. But, there are loopholes in the system, such as the claimant providing medical records and evidence for injuries that are hard to disprove. At the end of the day, whether the deceitful will prevail is all a test of fate and rhetoric. ♦

Service on Military Bases


As we shared in a previous post, service of process cannot take place on federal property.

Service on military bases can be tricky. Individuals cannot be served straightforwardly on military bases. Unless service is authorized, there is no guarantee it will be successful. However, sometimes, members of the military must be served, just as anyone else.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations for the Army (32 C.F.R. § 516.10):

“DA officials will not prevent or evade the service of process in legal actions brought against the United States or against themselves in their official capacities. If acceptance of service of process would interfere with the performance of military duties, Army officials may designate a representative to accept service. DA personnel sued in their individual capacity should seek legal counsel concerning voluntary acceptance of process.”

As Bob mentions in this video, the provost on the base is usually the point of contact and determines whether service will be authorized.

For more information regarding service of process on military bases, visit How to Serve Legal Documents to Members of the U.S. Military. ♦

 

Social media evidence is actually a thing.

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

If you’ve ever been called for jury duty, you know the process of selecting jury members is lengthy.

First, you report to the general area with the members of the large jury pool. Then, you wait.

And wait.

After what feels like forever, you listen for the names that are called, in hopes that you don’t hear yours. At least, that’s the typical person’s wish. When I served on my first jury a couple years ago, I had a gut feeling I was going to be selected, even if it wasn’t for the finalized jury. And I was. I was chosen for the initial group that was introduced to the trial, and I was also chosen for the final jury. I didn’t mind, though, because I actually was interested in the experience and wanted to see what it was like. However, the entire trial lasted a week, and it seemed as though it was dragging.

After the first set of people are selected to hear what the trial is about and be interviewed by both the plaintiff and the defendant attorneys, six to twelve jurors are chosen along with alternates. The alternates stay throughout the duration of the trial, but they do not participate in the deliberations unless they end up actually replacing a juror.

Sometimes, background checks are performed on potential jurors in a case by the attorneys arguing the case. This is done specifically to determine whether they’ve been involved in previous lawsuits, if they have criminal backgrounds, if they hold gun permits, or if they have bad driving records, for instance.

“It helps attorneys weed out people they don’t want or to accept people they do want based upon their background,” Bob, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., says.

But not only background checks are performed; social media searches are also done, and attorneys have their own reasons for wanting these.

Our company does jury selection background checks about once or twice a month, depending on how busy our clients are. The attorneys who use Bob trust that the information he obtains is accurate. Several of them have selected jurors based on social media evidence we have provided.

A number of our client law firms use us to perform checks for every trial they’re involved in. They’ll provide us a list of potential jurors, and we then execute background checks and social media searches and provide our findings to them while they’re in the jury selection process. All the jurors on the list are researched, even the backups. And these requests are time sensitive. Sometimes, Bob will even have to research these individuals from home on an overnight basis, sending this information to clients so they have it first thing in the morning.

What we do is find the person’s social media footprint and copy all their Facebook input, postings, and dialogue with Facebook friends. (Remember, this is all public record that is not covered under the Privacy Act because it is posted online.) What’s being looked for is potential abuse of information by the juror, who may be talking about or inquiring about the case or even mentioning the fact they’re involved in jury duty.

Many of us have gone on people’s Facebook pages and other social media platforms and have been able to gather information about them, even if it’s something as simple as viewing pictures of them and reading comments. Some of us have privacy settings enabled, but even then, not everything is hidden from the public. By doing something as simple as visiting someone’s social media page, we can get a brief insight on who we are looking at.

“Sometimes, in jury selection, I’ll do the background checks, and I’ll do the social media checks, and everybody is squeaky clean and it is a good jury,” Bob says. “And you gotta live with the verdict.”

As simple a procedure it may seem, to look at someone’s social media footprint and gather information, what is found can have a great impact and can sometimes be potentially very damaging for the case.

Attorneys use what is discovered based upon whether they need to challenge the verdict and based upon the juror’s use of social media about decisions or their decision-making process or evidence. Some information we have found from potential jurors has been significant in assisting several attorneys in petitioning the court to set aside a verdict based upon the behavior of the juror through social media.

Recently, a client of ours lost a case. He didn’t listen to his gut feeling. There was something inside him that led him to believe something was going on and that one or two of the jurors had done something to sway the other jurors. After doing a social media search on these individuals, we found evidence that was presented to the attorney, who was then able to have a mistrial declared. Now, they’re pending another trial.

So, this type of search can be helpful at times.

But it can be damaging as well. It depends which side you’re on and what you’re looking for in the jurors you’re selecting.

There’s even a whole industry in the legal profession where professionals are hired to select jurors, especially in high-profile cases. These professionals are looking for bias from all angles. What will be helpful all depends on which side of the case they’re on.

If someone is looking for bias against his or her client, this may show up in social media through events that jurors attend or through their comments about similar situations. If bias can be proved, if the case does not go your way, you can then go back and submit a request for retrial because of that bias. If you have the proof through social media, most judges may grant this request.

Use what you’ve got. The Internet is there for a reason. Why not take advantage? ♦

We CANNOT serve on federal property.

As Bob Fischer, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., explains, any facility owned by the government, such as a courthouse, cannot have service take place there. It’s the law.

This is something that is common knowledge among process servers and should be known by attorneys. However, in special circumstances, certain rules may apply.

Golf and Charity Work Go Hand in Hand

by: Nancy Fischer and Johnelle Rodriguez

The Men of Good Shepherd Catholic Church (MOGS) hosted its 23rdAnnual MOGS Open Golf Tournament on May 14, 2018, in Tallahassee, FL. Once again, Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc. was invited to participate as a sponsor. Bob Fischer, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., is an avid golfer and happily agreed to join the tournament and sponsor a hole for this worthy cause.

I, Nancy, am Bob’s wife and the vice president of the company. Bob and I drove up to Tallahassee that weekend and spent time with our good friends, Mike and Linda Nolan, who are the owners of Nolan Process Servers. We got to Tallahassee on Friday, a seven-hour drive, and were excited to see our friends of almost 30 years.

It was predicted that it would rain on Monday morning, so Mike, the event’s chairman, was a little apprehensive. He didn’t want the event to be a flop after all the effort he’d put into it. We prayed the entire weekend that the weather would remain clear, and at each meal’s grace-saying, this became a semi-joke. We were sure God listened to us with a smile. And to our surprise, when Monday arrived, the weather was a bit cloudy, but there was not a single drop of rain the entire day! It poured down in the evening, but at that point, we didn’t care.

The golf tournament was held at the prestigious Golden Eagle Country Club, located in the northeastern section of Tallahassee. The multi-million-dollar homes we observed on the way in from the gate told us this golf course was well cared for. We all got there early to set up and lay out the tables for the silent auction.

Mike collected a fine array of merchandise and gift certificates for the silent auction and raffle. Some of the items presented were autographed footballs, for instance, one from former QB and Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, and others from notables like current FSU coach Willie Taggard and former FSU coach Bobby Bowden. Additionally, there were two signed baseballs from current FSU coach Mike Martin, who has the highest winning record. To cater to the ladies, there were items such as a tiger eye necklace made by a local jeweler, Massage Envy gift certificates, gift baskets from a local hair salon, and unisex gift certificates for a local high-end car wash service and for a few restaurants.

Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc. donated $99.00 to sponsor the “Longest Drive Hole.” Bob won the silent auction on a Seiko watch and an 8 x 10 picture frame from a door prize ticket.

Other ladies from the Good Shepherd Catholic Church group called Wings also volunteered their time to help Linda and I register the golfers and sell them mulligans. To clarify, for non-golfers, mulligans are basically “do-overs” on shots. Each golfer was able to buy two mulligans for a donation of $10.00, and many did just that. They then received goodie bags, which were nice golf shoe bags, as a “thank you” for participating in the tournament.

There were 16 teams with four players on each team. Mostly men played. However, there was a handful of women who participated. Tee off was at 1:00 p.m., and all but three players were on time.

Everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly, and this was evident when they all arrived back at the clubhouse at 5:00 p.m., laughing and joking. We had our evening meal at the clubhouse restaurant. It was deliciously catered by the golf club. The buffet line included delectable dishes such as pulled pork, fried chicken, corn on the cob, baked beans, coleslaw, and, of course, desserts like brownies and cookies. For refreshments, there was a cash bar along with iced tea and water.

After dinner, the golfers were awarded their trophies for categories like “Longest Drive,” “Closest Ball to the Hole,” “Best Score,” and so on. Bob and Mike’s team didn’t receive any trophies. However, they came in fourth place out of 16 teams, which is an accomplishment in itself. Bob was upset he didn’t get the Longest Drive award, as he is usually an excellent long-distance driver off the tee. To his disadvantage, a tree jumped out right in front of him. Last year, he won in the Closest Ball to the Hole category, and he still proudly displays this trophy.

Bob was pleased with winning the Seiko watch in the silent auction, though, and that made up for the disappointment with the tree incident.

We all went home after the prizes were awarded and agreed to do it all over again next year. The following day, we packed our bags and said our goodbyes and drove back home to South Florida. We laughed with God again because we drove out of Tallahassee in the rain. This was fine because we were still able to spend time with our best friends, we laughed, we played, and we felt like we did something good for the church and for the community.

We look forward to participating again next year. Not only was it a fun event, but it was a worthy cause for Good Shepherd Catholic Church. Thank you, Mike and Linda Nolan, for inviting us. And great job pulling this all together, Mike. You gave it all you had, as you always do. See you all next year! ♦

 

 

 

 

 

 

Service on Incompetent

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

What comes to mind when you think of the word “incompetent?”

According to dictionary.com, “incompetent” has some of the following definitions:
– Lacking qualification or ability
– Incapable
– Being unable or legally unqualified to perform specified acts
or to be held legally responsible for such acts (law)
– A person lacking power to act with legal effectiveness (law)
– A mentally deficient person

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Although service of process and investigations deal with legalities, mental health does play a role in executing these services. To be more specific, if someone is declared “incompetent,” special measures must be taken when serving documents on the individual.

But let’s back up a little.

First off, the court is the only entity that can declare an individual incompetent. This declaration is a medical opinion based on someone’s medical history, mental health issues, or physical health issues. And this is usually determined by a doctor.

“Your husband, your wife, your sister, your brother, your aunt, or your uncle can’t declare you an incompetent without a legal proceeding,” Bob Fischer, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigations, Inc., explains.

When it comes to court cases, anyone has the potential to be involved in one. We have served people who have been deemed incompetent, and they’re usually the defendants in a case. Sometimes, the attorneys for the plaintiff don’t know of the person’s condition until the process server actually goes out and tries to serve him or her. All this being said, there are specific ways to handle these services.

Guardians ad litem are those who sort of act as a voice for the incompetent, in general terms.

“The guardian ad litem is like a power of attorney, in a really broad sense,” Bob says.

They are usually appointed by the court for someone who is declared incompetent and has to be involved in a court proceeding. They usually have the best interest of those they are representing at heart. In order to become a guardian ad litem, you must be appointed by the court by going through a special procedure, proving you can handle the different legal practices for an incompetent person.

Florida Statute 48.042 outlines how these types of services should be handled. As a process server, when you know the individual is incompetent, you must serve under this statute. Two copies of the documents must be served on the person who has control over the incompetent, whether it’s a family member, a hospital administrator, a mental health hospital administrator, or a guardian ad litem. However, a process server who attempts to serve an individual may not have any idea that the person is incompetent. The address the server attempts could be a facility where the person is being kept or a residence, where the person lives. When the server is advised of the person’s condition, this must be verified by documentation provided by the court.

As in any situation, the server must use his or her discretion when seeking to obtain service in a hospital or a mental facility. A process server should know not to just go in and try to find the person and serve the documents at his or her bedside.

Bob says that when he goes to the facility, he makes contact with one of the directors, whether it’s the director of nursing or someone in the facility who has control. He explains why he’s there and the documents he has. Usually, the administrator can be served. Bob typically tries to determine the person’s condition and reason for being at the facility before he tries to serve the documents.

Sometimes, people will be in the hospital to try and avoid service, which has happened to Bob several times. One time, a person faked a heart attack and had the ambulance come and take him to the hospital. Luckily, a neighbor knew what hospital he was in. So Bob found this out, took matters into his own hands and went to the hospital and contacted the local security official. He explained what was going on, and the security laughed a little and said the guy he was looking for did not have a heart attack. He told Bob what bed he was in and where he was located in the hospital. As soon as Bob served him, he got up out the bed and walked out of the hospital, cursing and screaming and hollering at Bob.

“Be very careful,” Bob advises. “Tread very carefully. It’s a very thin line.”

If someone has a real problem, you don’t want to just walk into the hospital and try to serve him or her; the service can potentially put the individual over the edge. But if he or she has not been declared incompetent and is in a hospital, the server can go up to the individual’s hospital room and try to serve the documents.

Say the servee has a heart condition, for instance. Bob would contact the head nurse at the station and make a determination of the severity of the person’s condition, such as if something like serving process could trigger an episode. Therefore, being careful is key. Once he discovers this information, he usually goes back to the client to confirm what should be done next.

For additional information on serving documents in hospitals, check out the following link: How to Serve Papers in a Hospital.

Some mental health facilities will not grant servers access. Some rehabilitation facilities, such as drug rehab and substance abuse rehab centers will not let servers in, either. At times, they won’t even confirm or deny if the person being sought is there. And this is legal, especially if it’s a Federal Class A facility.

“You’re not gonna get anywhere near that individual,” Bob warns.

With halfway houses and some of these facilities, it’s up to the process server to use some ingenuity to get people served. For instance, if it’s an outdoor facility with people hanging out on the street corner or out in front of their apartments, it would be smart for the server to go up and ask for the person.

Grow a heart.

That’s the advice Bob has for some attorneys who just don’t care. Some want the server to go in and deliver documents, regardless of the servee’s medical condition or reason for being in the hospital, when there are other ways to handle the matter. ♦

Risky Business

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

It’s dangerous.

Think about it. Imagine you’re home alone and someone you don’t know approaches your front door and starts to knock. The average person will either answer the door with caution or will ignore the knocks if he or she does not know the person; I’d probably do the latter. If it’s dark out, even worse.

Being a process server is a risky job that comes with its own set of hazards.

Just two years ago, a 36-year-old process server was killed from an attack by several dogs (Dangers of Process Serving Hit Home in Texas). After she made an attempt at a rural location, she was walking back to her car, which was parked on the road, and was mauled. Her body was not discovered for several hours, when the caretaker of the dogs finally arrived and called the police.

Another situation in 2016 highlights a sheriff who was shot and killed when serving eviction papers to a man (Deputy killed, 2 deputies injured, serving eviction notice in Park County; Suspect shot and killed). Two other deputies accompanying him were also shot but survived. The recipient of the eviction was known to authorities and had even posted on Facebook that the cops wanted him dead.

Therefore, it helps to know who you are serving. Know if this person has a criminal history. Know whether there is a possibility that this person is going to be hostile toward you. If something happens, try to diffuse the situation as quickly as possible.

Bob has had guns pulled on him. There was one instance where if he had not disarmed someone, he would have gotten shot.

Service was taking place with out-of-state papers at an office in Miami-Dade County. Bob had a U.S. Marshal with him along with another process server. The marshal was there to repossess John Doe’s boat. The other process server was there to make sure things went smoothly.

They were taking precaution.

When they entered the office, they saw the Mr. Doe behind his desk, talking on the phone. The receptionist was hostile toward Bob and the two individuals with him. She told them the guy they were looking for was not in and that she didn’t want them in the office. She told them to leave.

The marshal identified himself with his credentials. At this time, Bob went into the office and identified himself as an officer of the court. Mr. Doe reached over to his left-hand side into a duffel bag, and Bob could immediately tell he was pulling out a gun. Mr. Doe racked a round into the chamber, and as soon as Bob saw this, he went over the desk and knocked over the chair.

Mind you, Bob is a tall guy, well over six feet. So his height was to his advantage.

Bob stood on Mr. Doe’s hand that was holding the gun, and then the marshal ran in and put Mr. Doe in handcuffs.

“The man lost his boat and lost his freedom,” Bob said.

Aside from dealing with guns, Bob has had people hit him with their cars and throw hot coffee on his face.

As crazy as all of this may sound to us, process servers can face this sort of thing every day; it is the norm. People may get up in their faces and will sometimes put hands on them. And this is considered assault. Sometimes, the local authorities step in and come to the scene in assistance.

However, process servers aren’t well liked by a lot of different agencies, especially sheriff’s departments, since they take a lot of work off their hands.

According to Florida Statues, papers can be served 24 hours a day, 6 days a week (Sundays are not included). Depending on the time of year, when it starts to get dark outside earlier, process servers may have a certain cut-off time when they will stop attempting papers. If not, they run the risk of people becoming afraid. For instance, a single mother most likely would not open the door during later hours of the evening.

However, there have been instances where service has had to take place in the middle of the night because that’s the only time the recipient was accessible. There was once a gentleman, John Smith, who was here from the Carolinas, on the beach. The client was with Bob, and they later discovered Mr. Smith was hiding in the dumpster at the back of the hotel parking lot. They knew Mr. Smith only went out at night and would return to the hotel around 1:30, 2:00 in the morning. So he got served at this hour.

All this being said, process servers accept their duty with a grain of salt. All they can do is to be prepared and use proper judgment with each service. From the outside, we don’t see all the dangers process servers face. They are to be highly respected. ♦