How to write a demand letter
Demand letters are common in personal injury cases, but what is a demand letter? In short, it’s a letter that outlines your intent to sue if a settlement can’t be reached.
A demand letter is sent to the following people:
- The person being sued for causing the injury
- The other party's insurance company
- The injured party's insurance company
Some of the reasons for writing a demand letter include:
Officially notifying the other party of your intent to sue
Providing an opportunity for the other party to resolve the dispute
Demonstrating to a court that the other party had a reasonable opportunity to resolve the dispute
Creating evidence to support your case
Persuading the court to grant a larger settlement
Speeding up a resolution to the dispute
Important features of a demand letter
If you've never written a legal document, writing a demand letter may be a bit of a challenge. However, understanding the key features of a demand letter can make the writing process easier. Your demand letter should include the following elements:
An explanation of why you feel the other party is responsible. For example, a person who sustained injuries in a car accident may claim the other party is responsible because they ran a red light.
Details of any long-term or permanent injuries or disabilities caused by the incident. For example, a person who slipped on a spilled beverage in a grocery store may state that they fractured their spine and are now confined to a wheelchair.
Details of lost wages. For example, a person who developed repetitive strain injury working as a supermarket cashier may sue to the wages they would have accrued during their time recuperating.
The sum of your medical bills, including doctor and hospital fees and medication fees. For example, the parents of a child who fell from the school monkey bars because they weren't adequately supervised may detail the cost of treating the child's broken arm and the painkillers they were prescribed.
Details of the way the incident has affected your lifestyle, such as your ability to perform regular tasks or enjoy hobbies. For example, a person who cut their hand badly at work may detail the way their injury prevented them pursuing their passion for the piano.
The amount you're asking in damages.
Your intention to pursue legal remedies if your demands aren't met.
A deadline for the other party to respond. Somewhere between 7 to 14 days is ideal. Any longer and the other party may lose motivation to respond.
California personal injury lawyer Sally Morin says you should ask for a "reasonable" settlement amount at the end of your letter.
"Don't overreach, but keep in mind that insurance companies will rarely accept your demand amount, so you need to ask for the high end of your settlement range to give room for some back and forth negotiation," she explains.
You can also try waiting for the insurance adjuster to make the first offer, so you can get a clearer idea what settlement range is fair.
Guide for writing a demand letter
There are some important points you should keep in mind when writing your demand letter:
Be concise and clear. You'll be the most persuasive if you're simply presenting the facts.
Do not admit fault. This will weaken your case.
Write in a confident, educated, and polite manner.
Type your letter to ensure it looks professional.
Do you need a lawyer?
A personal injury lawyer isn't required, but there are several benefits to having an attorney read over your demand letter before it's lodged. They can ensure:
Your letter reads professionally.
You have not incriminated yourself.
You have not omitted any key or relevant information about your case.
The amount you're asking for is reasonable.
What happens next?
You should collect evidence to submit with your demand letter to support your claim. This evidence might include:
- Police reports
- Witness statements
- Pictures of the incident and your injuries
Send copies of all your evidence, and your demand letter, via certified mail to the parties outlined above. If the other party denies receiving your demand letter, your return receipt can counter their claims in court. Make sure you also keep a copy of everything you've sent for your own records.
If you haven't already, you may also decide to hire a personal injury lawyer at this time. Your lawyer can assist you during any negotiations that may occur and represent you in court should your case go to trial.
Your lawyer can also help you approach the other party's insurance agency for resolution if your demand letter is ignored. If the insurance company still won't work with you, then your lawyer can help you file a motion to appear in court.