All personal injury demand letters should include all of the parties involved, a description of the accident, a summary of the damages and aftermath, and a demand for compensation. Equally important is to not include things like an unreasonable demand, an admission of fault, or precise details that can be challenged. A personal injury attorney can help prepare an effective demand letter.
What are 4 things to include in a personal injury demand letter?
There are 4 things that victims should include in a personal injury demand letter:
- who was involved in the accident, as well as their insurers,
- what happened in the accident,
- a description of the accident’s aftermath and the victim’s injuries, and
- a general, non-specific demand for compensation.
The best way to craft a strong demand letter is by establishing an attorney-client relationship with a personal injury lawyer from a reputable law firm and getting his or her legal advice.
1. The parties involved
All personal injury demand letters should include the parties involved in the accident, as well as their insurers. The at-fault party’s insurance policy number should be included as well, if it is known. The victim’s identity and contact information should also be included. These details generally go in the letter’s header.
There are several reasons for including this information:
- it gives the other parties the victim’s contact information so they can respond,
- it shows that the victim knows who was at fault, and
- it provides potential defendants notice of the claim.
If an insurance adjuster has already been assigned to the case, the demand letter would mention him or her by name, address, and title.
If the insurance company has already assigned a case number to the accident, that should be included, as well.
2. A description of the accident
Demand letters also include a description of the accident. This description is one of the biggest pieces to the letter. It explains what happened, how the victim got hurt, and why the at-fault party should be held liable. It can include:
- witness statements,
- the police report, and
- medical records.
The accident description is also the portion of the letter that can do the most damage to the victim’s case. Attorneys defending against the insurance claim will use any inaccurate statements in the description to damage the victim’s credibility. They will also focus on any hint that the victim shared responsibility for the accident.
3. A summary of the aftermath and the victim’s damages
Another core component of every personal injury demand letter is a summary of the accident’s aftermath. This focuses on the victim’s damages and injuries. In some cases, this part of the demand letter can go first, right after a description of the parties involved.
This part of the letter describes all of the ways that the victim suffered from the accident. It includes details about:
- the trauma of the accident,
- the ambulance ride,
- any emergency care that the victim received,
- any fear or concern that the victim’s family experienced,
- the medical conditions that were diagnosed,
- medical procedures or surgeries that were needed to treat the victim’s injuries,
- the emotional distress and trauma of having a serious injury,
- how painful and debilitating the injury was,
- whether the injury will prevent the victim from enjoying his or her favorite pastimes,
- the need for ongoing and future care to recover,
- whether the victim missed work during the recovery process, and
- whether the injuries will impair the victim’s ability to continue to work in his or her chosen profession.
This portion of the letter should also include a listing of the expenses or lost revenue that the victim has suffered. This covers:
Copies of the medical treatment bills and other supporting documentation are often sent with the letter.
Nothing should be left out. If the victim suffered in a particular way from the accident, it should be mentioned in the demand letter. The goal of the letter is to describe to the recipient all of the ways that the accident has negatively impacted the victim.
4. A demand for compensation
Finally, the demand letter should include what is often referred to as “the ask.” This is where the victim demands compensation for his or her losses from the recipient of the letter.
How much compensation to demand can be tricky. If the victim demands too much, the recipient may find it unreasonable. It can make them decide to fight the claim all the way to court or make an equally unreasonable counteroffer. Demanding too little, however, can lead to the recipient making a personal injury settlement offer quickly, and for far less than it is really worth.
Some experienced attorneys find that a victim’s pain and suffering and other non-economic damages can recover more compensation than for lost income and medical expenses, combined. However, each case is different.
In some cases, it is a good idea to not state a specific dollar amount. This can put the defendant, often the insurance company, in a position where they are making the first offer. It can also avoid a situation where the victim’s losses increase after the demand letter has been sent.
What should I NOT include in my settlement demand?
There are some things that should not be included in a personal injury demand letter. These either undermine the merits of the victim’s personal injury claim, or can reduce the potential settlement or verdict.
Some of the most important things to NOT put in a settlement demand letter are:
- an admission of fault for the accident,
- extremely detailed descriptions of the accident that could be challenged, and
- unreasonable demands for compensation.
Details in the accident description that state or even imply responsibility for the accident are especially important to not include in the letter. Defense lawyers will focus on these details and try to paint the victim as the responsible party. Even if it is clear that the victim’s role was minor, defense lawyers will still be quick to reduce any payout offered for settlement purposes.
The description of the accident should not be overly detailed. If the details in the demand letter conflict with the police report or even the victim’s earlier or subsequent statements, defense lawyers will point to these inconsistencies as signs that the victim cannot be trusted. The description of the accident should be adequately, but not overly, detailed.
For example: In her demand letter, Mary claims that her car accident happened at 5:02 and that she was going the speed limit. She remembers that it was 5:02 because that was what her car’s clock said right before the collision. However, her car’s clock was wrong and another vehicle’s dashboard camera caught the auto accident at 5:04. The defense lawyer argues that, if Mary was wrong about the time of the accident, her claim that she was not speeding also cannot be trusted.
Unreasonable compensation demands can also hurt a demand letter. Insurance companies often take them as unserious offers to settle the case. They can make the insurer less willing to negotiate out of court.
Does the letter initiate a personal injury claim?
The demand letter initiates the settlement process. However, it does not initiate a formal personal injury lawsuit.
A well-crafted demand letter can start the negotiation for compensation. In many cases, when both sides are reasonable, the letter starts the negotiation that ends with the victim getting the compensation they need and deserve.
If the negotiation is not going anywhere, filing a formal personal injury lawsuit can escalate the discussions. Filing the lawsuit shows the letter’s recipients that the victim is willing to take his or her claim to court.
When should I send my demand letter?
Because it does not initiate the formal lawsuit, the personal injury demand letter should be sent well before the applicable statute of limitations has run. The statute of limitations is the deadline for filing the personal injury case in court. It may vary, depending on the type of personal injury claim being filed.
Sending the demand letter is a precursor to taking legal action with the lawsuit. By sending the letter early, it gives the settlement negotiation process time to play out.