Step One in Your Injury Claim: The Notification Letter

Giving notice of an accident and your injuries ensures the responsible party is aware of their potential liability should you file a personal injury claim.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Once you have determined every person or entity that might be responsible for your accident, your next step is to notify each of them that the accident happened and that you were injured. This may mean you send more than one letter -- for example, one letter each to the business and to the person who owned the property where you fell. If it was a vehicle accident, also notify your own insurance company if you believe you might file a claim under your own medical payments, collision, or uninsured motorist coverage. If you have no-fault automobile coverage, you must file a notice with your own insurance company immediately.

Write a letter of notification even if the others involved have assured you they will notify their insurance companies. If you know the other party's insurance company, you may also send a copy of your notification letter to that company's claims department (including the other party's policy number, if you know it).

What to Include in Your Claim Notification Letter

Your notification should be a simple typed letter giving only basic information and asking for a written response. It should not discuss fault, responsibility, or the extent of your injuries; you will discuss those things later on in your formal demand letter. The initial notification letter should do the following:

  • Provide your name and address. You do not have to include your phone number if you do not want to. Once you begin dealing with an insurance adjuster, though, you will probably want to be able to communicate over the phone as well as by letter. You are free to put whatever restrictions you want on such calls -- for example, only at home but not at work, or vice versa; only in the evening but not during the day, or vice versa.
  • Include the date, approximate time of day, and general location of the accident. The details of the location, if they become-important, can be discussed later. In this letter, you need only to give a description identifying the accident you are talking about, for example: "at the intersection of Main and Howard Streets," or "at your store in the Broadway Shopping Center."
  • If your letter is to an individual or business rather than to an insurance company, ask those involved to refer the matter at once to the appropriate insurance carrier -- and request that they inform you by return letter which insurance carrier it is.
  • If your letter is directly to an insurance company, ask that it confirm by return letter whom it represents and whether it is aware of anyone else who might be -responsible for the accident.
  • If you are writing to your own automobile insurance company after a vehicle accident, include not only information about the accident but also the basic information you have about the other driver and vehicle -- name, address, telephone number, license number, and insurance policy.

Before You Put Your Letter(s) in the Mail

Include the date on every letter -- and make a copy for your own files before sending it.

There is no need to send your initial notification letter by certified or registered mail. But if you receive no response from the other party or its insurance company within two weeks of sending your notification letter, you should repeat the process, this time requesting a return receipt from the post office.

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

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