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Can I serve the Washington Secretary of State instead of personally serving the defendant?

If you're suing the other driver in a car accident case, you have another option available to you.  The Washington Secretary of State.

Why is that? Under Washington law (RCW 46.64.040), everyone who drives a motor vehicle in the state and who is involved in a car accident and who cannot be found “appoints” the secretary of state to serve is his or her “agent” for service of process.

Of course, the evasive defendant isn't really doing this. RCW 46.64.040 is really just a legal fiction.

The law isn't going to reward drivers who get into accidents and then hide themselves in the state to avoid getting served. In writing this law, legislators basically told these drivers: "Fine, you want to avoid service. The secretary of state is not your agent. Your strategy failed. Congratulations."

RCW 46.64.040 lays out the steps for serving the other driver through the Secretary of State's office:

  1. You have to file a cover letter stating the last known address (if known) of the driver.
  2. You have to file TWO copies of your summons and complaint with the Secretary of State
  3. You have to pay the required $50 filing fee per individual, address, or marital community.
  4. You must then immediately send both documents (summons and complaint) to the defendant's last known address, certified mail (return receipt requested) 
  5. You must also mail the defendant a “affidavit of compliance,” stating that you properly complied with service on the Secretary of State. You do not have to file this affidavit with the Court.
  6. Finally, you must mail the defendant an affidavit documenting what steps you took to attempt to locate and serve the defendant. Under the law, you have to show that you exercised “due diligence” and that you took “reasonable steps” to try to find the defendant.

I cannot stress this enough: You have to follow the above process the letter. You have to file the right documents, in the right order, in the right way. 

Note: this only applies to motor vehicle cases, not other types of personal injury cases.

How do I serve the secretary of state?

You can serve the secretary of state's office by mail or in person.

For personal service or overnight mail: Corporations Division, 801 Capital Way S, Olympia, WA 98501

For regular mail: Corporations Division, PO Box 40234, Olympia, WA 98504-0234

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