Drafting a Demand Letter Before You Sue

A well drafted demand letter can help you settle your injury case without the expense and time involved in litigating an injury lawsuit in civil court.

Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney

A demand letter is a formal request to settle a dispute before you file a personal injury lawsuit. Your letter should:

  • explain why the other side is legally responsible (liable)
  • describe the nature of and extent of your injuries, and
  • conclude with a demand for a lump sum to settle your claim.

Writing an effective demand letter requires attention to detail, some medical knowledge about each injury, and a certain level of restraint. A well-prepared demand letter sets the tone for settlement negotiations, and can help you avoid the expense and hassle of a legal battle.

Here are some tips on how to write a convincing letter that fully captures your accident-related losses (damages). You should also check out AllLaw's collection of sample demand letters to get a feel for the structure and substance of a persuasive demand letter.

Show Liability

A demand letter should start with a description of how the accident happened. Include all the points that might show why the other party was at fault. If you have outside support for your position, be sure to include it. For example, if you were involved in a car accident and the police report says that the other driver caused the accident by speeding and texting while driving, you should attach a copy of the report to your demand.

Calculate and Itemize Your Damages

In a personal injury case, money damages are paid to an injured person (the plaintiff) by the person or entity responsible for the accident (the defendant). Your demand letter needs to specifically describe your injuries and medical treatment, medical expenses, lost income, pain, discomfort, and disruption to your life caused by the accident.

A demand letter that simply says that the injured person suffered medical injuries totaling $10,000 is too vague. Instead, a good demand letter will detail each injury and the exact amount of medical bills related to that injury. Check out: Detailing Your Injuries and Losses in a Demand Letter.

Don't Write a Demand Letter Too Early or Too Late

Don't send a demand letter in a personal injury case until you've reached a point of maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is the point in your recovery when your injuries are stable and you have a clear picture of your medical future.

You need to have a clear picture of your medical future so that you can ask for the right amount of money in your demand letter. If you ask for too little and settle for that amount, you can't ask for more later if your injuries turn out to be more serious than you initially thought.

But don't let the deadline to file a lawsuit go by. Each state puts a strict time limit—called the statute of limitations—on your right to file a lawsuit. If you miss the deadline, you'll almost certainly lose your right to sue and recover damages. Send your demand letter well before the statute of limitations runs, so you have time to file a lawsuit if negotiations stall or fail. Most states allow plaintiffs two or three years to file a civil lawsuit, but a few states have a one-year statute of limitations. Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about the deadline to file a lawsuit in your state.

Gather Your Supporting Documents

You need to be prepared to back up your claims about liability for the accident, your injuries, and other losses. Examples of supporting documents you might want to enclose with your letter include:

  • police report
  • relevant laws or legal rules (like traffic laws or building codes)
  • photos of the accident scene
  • photos of your injuries
  • witness statements
  • your medical records
  • medical bills
  • proof of your income loss, and
  • documents showing other losses you suffered, like plane tickets for a vacation you had to cancel.

Include Pain and Suffering

In many personal injury cases, you can recover compensation for pain and suffering, including physical and emotional distress. It's a mistake to only ask for compensation for your physical injuries in a demand letter. For example, an incomplete demand letter might ask for reimbursement for all medical bills related to a car accident but neglect to seek damages for the accompanying constant pain from a severe leg injury. Pain is hard to put a dollar amount on, but you should always seek compensation for it in a demand letter.

Learn more about how to calculate pain and suffering damages.

Not Too Short, Not Too Long

A short demand letter runs the risk of leaving out important facts and details. But a demand letter that is too long will likely include unnecessary details and undermine the strength of the letter. A demand letter should tell a story that is in chronological order with specific dates. It should be concise, but also include all the important details. Do not elaborate for dramatic effect.

Be Careful to Send It to the Right Place

You must send your demand letter to the right person or entity. In many cases, you'll be sending it to the insurance company of the person who harmed you. You might have to do some research to figure out where to send your demand letter. A company might have a specific legal department that receives demand letters and other legal documents. In order to save time and energy, you can simply call the company and ask which department or person accepts demand letters and similar correspondence related to a potential claim for compensation.

Make Reasonable Demands

Many personal injury lawyers want to get the most compensation possible for their clients. However, a demand letter should not claim outrageous and unwarranted damages or excessive emotional damages and pain and suffering. Such demand letters will not be taken seriously and may hinder future negotiations.

As a general practice though, you should ask for more money than you are willing to settle for to leave yourself plenty of room to negotiate. Many insurance companies will make very low initial offers. Expect some back and forth negotiations.

Learn more about how much to ask for in your demand letter.

You May Need To Sue After All

Sometimes, no matter how well-crafted your arguments and reasonable your demand, you won't have a choice but to file a lawsuit and take your case to court. Often, filing a lawsuit is the catalyst needed to get the defendant to make a serious settlement offer. To learn more about when this might be necessary and what follows once you sue, check out: Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit When Your Demands Go Unanswered.

If you need help writing a demand letter or have questions about the pros and cons of filing a lawsuit, talk to a lawyer. Learn more about how a personal injury lawyer can help you. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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