In personal injury cases, a demand letter is a request to the insurance company or to the wrongdoer whereby the victim seeks compensation for the injuries sustained. The demand letter is an attempt to settle the matter informally, before a lawsuit is initiated. It may be written and submitted directly by the injured party, or by the injured party’s attorney. A well-written demand letter can mean the difference between settling a case quickly or getting ignored for months on end.
To help you understand how to write a great demand letter, our California personal injury lawyers discuss, below:
- 1. What is the purpose of a demand letter in a California injury case?
- 2. Why a well-written demand letter is important?
- 3. What information should the letter contain?
- 4. Should a specific dollar amount be requested?
- 5. Can a person submit a demand letter without the aid of an attorney?
It is similar to an opening argument in a court case. It explains to the insurance adjuster:
- When and how the accident or incident happened,
- Why the defendant is responsible,
- The extent of the plaintiff’s injuries, and
- The damages the plaintiff has incurred and will likely incur in the future.
A well-written letter sets the tone for the settlement negotiations. It lets the adjuster know the injured party is serious about pursuing his or her right to compensation, whether as a lump sum or through payment plans.
It presents enough facts to improve the odds of settling a case before filing a legal action in small claims or superior court, while saying nothing that might come back to hurt the plaintiff’s case should a trial prove necessary.
A demand letter does not need to be lengthy, especially in small claims cases. However, it should present enough information to give the adjuster a clear sense of what happened. It should also set forth a strong case for why the defendant is liable and how the plaintiff has been injured.
Information that should be provided usually includes:
- The time, date and location of the accident or incident,
- The names and contact info of the parties involved,
- A clear account of what happened,
- What injuries the plaintiff sustained, and
- Any supporting documents in the plaintiff’s possession, such as:
- X-rays, MRIs or other objective test results;
- Photos and/or videos of the accident scene;
- Photos and/or videos showing the plaintiff’s property damage and/or physical injuries; and
- A summary of damages the plaintiff has incurred and is expected to incur in the future – including:
- Medical bills,
- Car repair bills,
- Lost wages,
- Future lost earning capacity (with an opinion letter from an economic expert, if appropriate),
- (In non-injury cases, other expenses such as security deposits being held by landlords, or overdue bills to business owners),
- An explanation of any non-economic damages — such as scars, loss of physical function, and pain and suffering — with supporting photos, documents and doctor’s reports, if available.
It should be mailed return receipt requested.
Plaintiffs should generally not ask for a specific dollar amount. For one thing, the full extent of damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs is not always known at the time the letter is written.
More importantly, asking for a total amount of money sets an upper limit for the negotiation that can be hard to increase. Therefore it is usually to the plaintiff’s advantage to have the adjuster make the first offer.
The exception is when the plaintiff is seeking the maximum amount payable under an insurance policy and that amount is both known for certain and supported by the evidence.
Example: Janice suffers a brain injury after hitting her head on the concrete as the result of a slip-and-fall accident during a neighbor’s pool party. Janice’s lawyer confirms that the neighbor has a homeowner’s policy and umbrella policy with combined limits of $2,000,000.
Janice’s medical bills are projected to top out at several million dollars and Janice will likely require lifelong care. Therefore her lawyer is comfortable proposing the case be settled for the policies’ limits.
The demand letter is one of the most important documents an insurance adjuster will receive. Its importance cannot be overstated.
As a result, most people prefer to have a lawyer write one on their behalf, even in small claims court cases. Lawyers write these communications on a regular basis and know what details to include. Just as importantly, they know what not to say.
Additionally, it is sad but true that adjusters pay more attention when there is an attorney experienced in California law involved. We do not take a dime from our clients unless and until their case settles or we win at trial. Adjusters know this.
The mere fact that we have reviewed the facts and accepted a case sends the message that the claim has substance and warrants legal remedies. Adjusters are familiar with all the sample demand letters on the internet and simply do not take them as seriously.
Need help in California? Call us…
If you or someone you care about has been injured in California because of a car accident, dog bite, dangerous product, slip and fall accident or another wrongful act, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation and legal advice.
Call us to speak to an experienced California injury attorney about your case.
We can also help you write an effective demand letter after a Nevada accident or injury.