The Lingering Effects of COVID-19 on the Practice of Law

Whenever we are forced to file suit on behalf of a client, we have to take various measures provided by the Ohio Civil Rules to perfect service of the Summons and Complaint on Defendants. Effective service is one of a myriad of issues that we handle without worrying a client. And yet, failure to serve a Defendant can be hugely detrimental to an injury claim.

Throughout the pandemic, we have encountered several instances of attempts to serve by certified mail be returned marked “Covid 19,” “C19,” or another variation of the Covid indication with the mail carriers identification number. In our courts, we have encountered distinct approaches wherein one local Common Pleas Court would recognize that as effective service on a defendant while several others would not.

For many injury attorneys, that pandemic reality has meant that we have had to turn to service by local sheriff or an appointed process server. At times, we have even had to consider service by publication. Any of those methods translate to more expense for injured clients.

Recently, the First District Court of Appeals (serving Hamilton County) issued a decision in CUC Properties, Inc. v. smartLink Ventures, Inc., Case No. C-210003 (available at https://www.scribd.com/document/529561490/CUC-v-SmartLink-Opinion) indicating that the notation “Covid 19” or “C19” did not constitute service as prescribed by the Civil Rules.

In CUC Properties, the plaintiff requested service by certified mail. The USPS noted “Covid 19” or “C19” on the return receipts filed with the Common Pleas Court. CUC Properties obtained judgment by default against smartLink. The latter argued that it never received service of the Complaint pursuant to Civil Rule 4.1. The First District Court of Appeals agreed.

The Court reasoned as follows:

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly demanded innovation and flexibility, and courts around the state (and country) admirably exhibited great creativity in keeping the courthouse doors open while also ensuring public safety. The challenging nature of the pandemic aside, we simply cannot disperse with the rules and due process protections. This is particularly so when the record contains no indication that service was otherwise validly achieved…. a notation of “Covid 19” or “C19” does not constitute a valid signature….

For practitioners, that decision could further transform firms’ approaches to service in an ongoing, trying time. Many will look forward to a day when the effects of the pandemic on the practice of law have waned.
Other Ohio Courts of Appeals may think differently about the issue. Only time will tell.

The Richards Firm has your safety and convenience in mind. We provide service to you in any number of ways whether virtually, by phone, or in person with precautions.

Call your local personal injury lawyer in Hamilton, Ohio at The Richards Firm today to discuss your vehicle or truck accident, dog bite, defective product, defective premises, nursing negligence, or other personal injuries today. We can help you navigate those complexities.
We can be reached at 513-868-2731, ext. 219 or visit us at http://richardsinjuryfirm.com.

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