Detailing Your Injuries and Losses in a Demand Letter

Your "damages" determine the value of your personal injury settlement, so be sure to include specifics in your demand letter.

By , J.D.

In any kind of personal injury case, the demand letter sets the stage for settlement talks. After discussing how the accident happened and who is to blame, you'll need to describe every consequence of the accident and how you have been affected—your injuries, your pain and discomfort, lost income from time missed at work, and more. Read on for the details. (Get the basics on writing a personal injury demand letter.)

Your Injuries and Treatment

In describing your injuries and medical treatment, don't hold back. Emphasize your pain, the length and difficulty of your recovery, the negative effects of your injuries on your daily life, and any long-term or permanent injury—especially if it is disabling or disfiguring, such as a permanent limp or scarring.

To support your claim of injury, pain, and disability, use the words that appear in medical records. Choose "official" terms over conversational language; "narrowing of disk spacing" is stronger than "strained back."

Of course, do not make things up or be overly dramatic. The easiest way to describe your injuries, treatment, recovery, and long-term or permanent effects is to go step-by-step, and chronologically. Proceed from how the injury occurred, to your pain and what you did about it immediately after the accident, through all the medical examinations, diagnoses, and treatments you received, through all the stages of your pain and disability during recovery. End with a description of your pain and suffering and the more subjective effects of your injuries.

Other Losses

Most of what you recover for your injuries is compensation for pain, discomfort, and disruption in your daily life. But sometimes you suffer extra or unusual discomforts, embarrassments, inconveniences, or losses. Review your notes to remind yourself of the kinds of things you went through, or had to miss or give up, because of your injuries. Mention them in your demand letter, and do not be shy about saying how important those things are to you.

Medical Expenses

Immediately following your description of all your medical treatment, include in the demand letter a list of each medical provider who treated you and the total amount charged by each. If you were treated by an HMO or other prepaid plan, list the charges it provided you with in place of actual medical bills. Make sure the list matches your medical billing records, copies of which you will be sending to the insurance company along with the demand letter.

Lost Income

Make a brief statement of the amount of time you missed from work because of your injuries, and refer to whatever proof you have from your employer verifying your pay and missed time. Then multiply the time missed by your rate of pay to get a lost income total. You do not have to explain why you were unable to work. If the insurance company wishes to challenge your claim that you were unable to work, it can do so during negotiations. And you do not have to discuss whether you took sick leave, vacation time, or unpaid time off. The time you missed and the amount you are normally paid are the only things that matter.

If you are irregularly employed or self-employed, explain how you arrived at the total figure for lost income. Your income is impossible to predict exactly, so you do not have to claim that the figure you give is exact. Just explain what basis you used for figuring your rate of income—a weekly amount based on your previous year's income as shown on your tax return, for example, or a monthly amount based on the months immediately preceding the accident—and refer to whatever documents you have to back up that income and your missed work.

All of the losses we've discussed here will set the value of your personal injury settlement, and help you figure out how much to ask for in your demand letter.

Supporting Documents

Along with your demand letter, send the insurance company copies of documents, records, letters, bills, and other proof of things you describe in your letter. Keep the originals for your own files. Although no one's claim has all of the documents listed below, use the following list to remind yourself of what might support your claim. When you send these documents along with your demand letter, arrange them in the same order in which you refer to them to in the letter.

Supporting documents to enclose with your demand letter might include:

  • a police report, copy of a traffic law or building code, or any other document supporting your contention that the insured person violated a law or legal rule
  • photos of the accident scene
  • witness statements supporting your description of how the accident happened
  • photos of your injury
  • your medical records, arranged according to each medical provider—that is, all your records from Dr. X together in chronological order, then all records from Dr. Y
  • bills, billing records, or lists of charges for all medical treatment—regardless of who paid for it—arranged chronologically by medical provider in the same order as the medical records
  • documents showing your income loss, and
  • documents showing other losses you suffered, such as the invitation to a wedding you missed, or the schedule of the dance classes you were forced to miss and will not be able to attend for another six months.

The more documentation you have to support your claim, the better positioned you'll be to negotiate a fair personal injury settlement.

    See our collection of sample demand letters to get a sense of what this kind of correspondence looks like, what to include, and what to ask for. And learn more about what happens after you send your demand letter.

    This article is an excerpt from the book How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Attorney Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

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