A demand letter is a formal attempt to settle a personal injury dispute before filing a lawsuit. The letter states the legal claim that the plaintiff has against the defendant. It sets the tone for how the case will proceed. If prepared carefully, it can prevent you from having to go to court. It shouldn’t be done carelessly because it’s a foundational step in the legal process. Treat it as the important document that it is and improve your chances of reaching a settlement.
Do I Have to Write a Demand Letter?
Some courts require plaintiffs to write a demand letter but many don’t. Still, people often use a demand in tort, contract, and commercial law cases. The letter tells the defendant the restitution or performance they want. Often, the defendant responds with a denial letter. Even if your case proceeds to court, the information in the denial letter provides clues about the defendant’s defense. Even if the letter doesn’t result in a settlement, it might help you prepare your case.
Writing a Demand Letter for a Personal Injury
Personal injury law is a tort law, meaning it involves a wrongful act by one party on another. Torts and personal injuries might occur in three different ways:
- Negligence – Negligence is the failure to act that leads to an injury. The court must determine that the defendant owed a duty of reasonable care and failed to behave in a reasonable manner to provide that care. To prove negligence, the plaintiff must suffer an injury due to the defendant’s actions or inactions. That injury must cause actual damages.
- Intentional Acts – Some common intentional acts in tort law include assault & battery, trespassing, fraud, and invasion of privacy. The court must determine that the defendant acted with the intention of causing the person harm or injury.
- Strict Liability – Strict liability occurs when one person or business puts another in danger by owning a dangerous product, animal, or weapon. It also covers Abnormally Dangerous Acts that carry a significant risk to oneself or other people’s physical being and personal property.
In personal injury claims, the process begins by submitting a demand letter to the defendant’s insurance company. Depending on the specifics of your case, you might send a letter to your own insurance company as well. A well-crafted letter helps persuade the insurance company to provide adequate compensation for your damages/injuries. Some of the details included in the letter are:
- Description of the Accident
- The Personal Injuries You Received
- Discussion of the Defendant’s Liability
- Coverage of Your Medical Treat
- A List of Your Medical Bills
- Amount of Lost Income Due to Your Injuries
- Your Injury Settlement Demand
Steps for Writing a Professional Demand Letter
You need to know where to start and the process for writing a demand letter that is professional and concise. The following steps will help ensure your letter contains all the proper information.
Step 1: Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
Legally, you don’t have to hire an attorney. But what you don’t know about the process could end up causing you to lose your claim. An experienced personal injury attorney knows your rights and the state laws. If you don’t get it right the first time, you may not get a second chance.
Step 2: Don’t Act Too Soon
Choosing the best time to craft and send a demand letter is a bit of a balancing act. Every state has specific statutes of limitations during which to file your claim. On the other hand, sending the letter too soon might prevent you from getting the figures for your medical treatment right. Your attorney knows how to calculate your current and future medical costs without missing your chance to file.
Step 3: Get Organized
Know your goal. The purpose of the demand letter is to make the defendant assess the situation in a business-like way. Make them think about the amount of time a lawsuit would take. You want them to consider debating the dispute in public. You also want them to think about the likelihood they might lose.
Step 4: Prepare a Typewritten Letter
– If you don’t have a computer and printer, find someone who does. Borrow a friend’s, use the ones at work, or go to the public library. You can’t create a professional looking letter without them.
– Include all of the facts of the case. Although the defendant already knows what happened, you need a record that tells the judge exactly what happened. Include everything related to the dispute, including events before, during, and after it took place.
– Some plaintiffs use demand letters to intimidate or harass the defendant. Don’t resort to these tactics. Remain polite and calm. A peaceful attitude is less likely to invoke anger and it makes you more believable.
– Be reasonable about the amount that you ask for. Asking for damages that are outrageous or unwarranted reduces your credibility. Asking for too much could hinder future negotiations.
Still, you should ask for more compensation than you want. That gives you room to negotiate without getting what you really need. Don’t just pull a number out of the air, either. Support the amount by listing losses such as medical costs, repairs, property damage, lost income, and pain and suffering.
– Include a deadline of one to two weeks for a response. Supply a date and a statement that you plan to promptly pursue legal remedies if they fail to pay your demand.
Step 5: Make Hard Copies
Make a few copies of the demand letter and put them in your files. Send it by certified mail with a return receipt request. This proves the defendant received your letter in case they dispute it later on. Be careful to address it to the right person or business. To make sure it reaches the right person or department, contact a business to see who handles their legal correspondence.
Keep any correspondence you receive from the defendant or their insurance company, too. This will be used as evidence if you end up going to court.
Step 6: Prepare for a Lawsuit
If the defendant agrees to a settlement, it usually takes between four to six weeks to complete the process. This varies from case to case and might take significantly longer. You will sign a release that says you agree to the settlement terms. Signing the release is your agreement to give up on any further attempts at compensation. Once the insurance company receives the release, they will issue a check for the agreed-upon amount. This check usually goes to your attorney. The attorney’s fees, out-of-pocket expenses, and any other related costs are deducted from the total amount. Then, the attorney usually writes a check for the remainder of the settlement to you.
Even if you get the demand letter just right, your case might still go to court. Sometimes people don’t see things in the same perspective. If they don’t think you have a good case, they might not agree to the demand. If the defendant doesn’t respond by the deadline, a lawsuit is the next logical step.
Only a small percentage of all personal injury cases go to trial. Still, there’s a 4% to 5% chance that your demand letter won’t get the results you hoped. When trying for a settlement, it’s best to “Hope for the best and expect the worst.” Be prepared to move forward with a lawsuit if the defendant doesn’t respond to your demands.
The Next Step: File a Claim
The lawsuit begins when you file a complaint. Like the demand letter, the complaint sets out the facts and legal basis for your claim. You must file the complaint in court before the statute of limitations expires. Once the complaint is served on the defendant, the lawsuit is officially underway.
Once the lawsuit begins, you have less control over some areas. For example, the defendant’s insurance company can talk with your doctors and with you directly. They can force your attorney to do more work to gather evidence and prepare your case. Your expenses grow, along with the stress of preparing for court. Once your case is in front of a judge, you no longer have control over the outcome. All of these reasons are good ones for making the effort to craft a professional and compelling demand letter.
Example of a Demand Letter
|August 3, 2020
Mr. Harold Beasly
Local Insurance Company
123 Sunshine Drive
San Diego, CA
Re: Your Insured: Betty Jones
Date of Injury: July 31, 2020
Your File Number: 11AA23-F4 (Place the insurer’s file number on all correspondence with the insurer.)
Dear Mr. Beasley:
I have completed medical treatment, and am enclosing all of my medical records and bills from this case. As you are aware, I was injured when your insured rear-ended my vehicle while I was stopped at a traffic sign at the intersection of River Lane and Ocean View. Law enforcement responded to the scene and ticketed your insured for failing to yield. The police record of the rear-end collision and the citation given leave no question that your insured was negligent and caused my injury.
I felt pain in my lower back immediately after the insured hit my vehicle. I reported the pain to your insured and to the responding officer. He offered to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital. My car was still drivable, and I just wanted to go home. After arriving home, I spent the rest of the day lying on the sofa. I was on vacation for the week, so I didn’t have to go to work. The following day was Friday, and I spent that day lying on the sofa and resting as well. The following Monday morning, I returned to my job at the A-1 Manufacturing Plant. I typically spend at least 90% of my time on my feet working on the assembly line. The rest of the time is spent at a computer desk entering reports. After a couple of hours at work, I was in excruciating pain. My supervisor recommended going to a doctor.
I saw my primary care physician as a walk-in. She diagnosed me with lower back and neck strain. He told me to stay off my feet and off the computer for a week. I was given a prescription for NSAIDs to relieve my pain for one week and sent home. I returned to my doctor after one week as suggested but he was unable to sign a full release. I was unable to return to my previous job without a release to perform my regular duties which require some lifting and computer use. After another week, I returned to my doctor who released me to perform to my regular duties. She advised me to take precautions about over-exerting my back and neck muscles and not to work beyond the point of discomfort. She told me to take lesser strength over-the-counter NSAIDs as needed and discontinued my prescription pain meds.
I returned to work after the second week but quickly became fatigued and sore. I have also had to forego my workouts at the gym and running in the mornings per my doctor’s advice. My work has agreed to reduce my hours until I recover but I have lost some of my benefits as a result in my working hours.
My medical bills total $9,000. I have paid $320 in co-pays. My health insurance paid the remainder of my medical bills. However, they have sent a letter claiming a lien of $1,000 for any settlement that I receive on this case.
My medical bills were as follows:
· Dr. Elaine Jackson $750
My two weeks of missed work at the A-1 Manufacturing Plant at $2,000 per week resulted in lost income of $4,000. In addition, I lost 10 hours each week for the following two weeks which decreased my pay by $1,000. My total lost wages are $5,000. I have included a letter from Dr. Jackson stating her requirements for time off and for the necessary reduction in hours. The total amount I am asking for in special damages is $6,700. Please advise as to your thoughts on this matter.
(Insert Your Signature)
Even if your demand letter isn’t met, you might still settle your personal injury case before going to court. The best way to get the best results for your claim is to get an experienced personal injury attorney on your side from the start.
If you need help writing a demand letter, contact Batta Fulkerson today. We have a history of success at helping our clients get the best outcome for their claims.