An effectively written demand letter can go a long way to settle a personal injury case short of trial. The letter should only be prepared after the incident leading to it has been fully investigated, your witnesses and experts have been interviewed and the injured person is medically stable, although future treatment may be required.
There are five distinct sections to a settlement demand letter. The first, a heading, simply provides basic information such as the client and defendant names, claim or cause number and the date of injury. The phrase “For Settlement Purposes Only” should be typed in bold, capital letters at the top of the letter. The specifics of your demand follow in the next four sections.
Clearly describe the incident which led to the injury or damage. State the date, approximate time, location, weather conditions if relevant, and related circumstances. Explain events leading up to the incident and exactly what happened to the best of your client’s memory.
Describe what the defendant did or did not do which caused the injury or damage. Stick to the facts. Do not make contradictory statements. If your client is uncertain whether something occurred or not, do not include a statement on that issue.
Injuries and Treatment
Detail physical and mental injuries suffered from the time of the incident and all treatment received. For example, if a car accident was involved, describe the client’s immediate condition. Was the person pinned in the vehicle or knocked unconscious? Describe how long it took for aid to arrive and what steps paramedics took to stabilize the client’s condition. Were drugs administered to control pain?
Use highly descriptive terms. An arm may have been “shattered” rather than broken. Pain may have been “excruciating” rather than severe. Describe injuries if great detail but don’t exaggerate or lie. Cover both physical pain and mental anguish.
Keep the narrative in chronological order. Explain what happened upon arrival at the hospital. List all tests were administered, how long the client remained in the hospital, what treatment was received and any recommended follow-up treatment. Include the length of time a cast was worn or how long extended bed rest or physical therapy was required? Describe the recovery period and the existence of any prolonged negative effects such as loss of feeling, continued pain, trouble sleeping or limited mobility.
Make it crystal clear why the other party is at fault. Never admit your client’s fault. Outline the strengths of your case and, for now, ignore the weaknesses. Emphasize your client’s actions were proper and responsible at all times. For example, if the incident involved a vehicle accident, note that your client was driving at the speed limit, wearing a seatbelt and obeying all traffic regulations.
Note any laws or regulations which were broken by the other party. If the incident was investigated by police or other authorities, summarize their conclusions with extra emphasis on any assignment of fault. Note whether the other party was cited. Highlight the risk the other party may face at trial and reasons a jury is likely to rule against that person based on actions or behavior. For example, if witnesses will state the defendant was talking on a cell phone at the time he caused a vehicle accident, include that fact.
Special damages are those for which a specific cost can be calculated. List all ambulance, hospital and medical bills plus other out of pocket expenses. If future treatment is anticipated, provide a cost based on a doctor’s written estimate. If there were lost wages due to inability to work, include that cost. Get a written statement from the employer supporting the amount claimed. State the total for special damages.
General damages are those for which there is no easy calculation. These include such things as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience and anxiety. To support a claim for these damages describe how the injury or loss has impacted daily life, a marriage or relationships with children. Was a vacation cancelled or were important events missed due to the injury? Note whether a physical injury resulted in a permanent weakness or an inability to perform tasks which were previously routine?
Be realistic. An outlandish request will be rejected outright, and the effort made to prepare the letter will be wasted. However, once you have determined a reasonable amount to request for general damages, double it. This will allow room for future negotiations.
Your conclusion should state the total amount you are requesting. Thank the recipient for consideration of the demand and a request a response within 30 days. The letter should be accompanied by well-organized attachments. Attachments should include all medical bills, statements supporting a claim of lost wages or recommended future treatment, police reports, copies of relevant laws if applicable and photos of the incident location and of your client’s injuries.
A strong and convincing demand letter will stick to the facts and provide clear, supporting evidence of fault and damages. If your letter does so it should, at least, invite settlement negotiations. At best, the letter may result in achieving a fair settlement for your client.