A quality demand letter is one of the key steps in settling your personal injury claim. Your attorney should send a demand letter to the at-fault driver's insurance company to begin the negotiation process.
What Does a Demand Letter Include?
Before getting to the details of a demand letter, you should know that certain rules of the Evidence Code prevents the contents the letter from being used as evidence if your case goes to trial. Although your letter will include many details that will be relevant and used at trial, the actual letter, including the initial dollar figure in the settlement demand is not admissible. This prohibition allows the parties to negotiation without the fear of having the demands and discussions used against them in trial.
A successful demand letter is clear, detailed, professional, and persuasive. Your attorney will establish the facts, apply the appropriate law to the facts, then argue the rationale for the desired settlement amount. Since every case is different, no two letters are exactly alike. However, most demand letters should include certain elements:
- The date, time, and location of the accident
- A description of the accident to establish responsibility for the accident
- A list of your injuries and symptoms following the accident
- A description of your medical diagnosis and treatment
- A list of your medical expenses
- Information concerning any loss of earnings suffered by you
- A description of your pain, emotional distress and how this accident disrupted your life
Your demand letter will be accompanied by available supporting documents to justify the claims made. These documents may include police reports, witness statements, medical bills and expenses, past earnings, and other documents which verify the severity of your injuries and losses. As additional documents are obtained by your lawyer’s office, they may be used to supplement the original demand letter. If you have supporting documents, you should provide those documents to your lawyer and they too may be included with the demand letter.
How Does My Attorney Decide How Much to Ask For?
After stating the facts surrounding the case and referring the insurance company adjuster to your supporting documents, the demand letter will either make a claim for payment of the insurance policy limits available to the responsible party, or may identify a specific dollar amount you wish to receive from your settlement.
Dollar amounts for the demand depend on many factors, including such things as the severity of your injuries, your previous and future medical expenses, and any other past and future losses you have incurred or will incur as a result of the accident. You lawyer may factor in settlements or verdicts received by others after experiencing similar injuries. Due to geographical variances, most of the time, your lawyer will review results in the county in which the claim is made, and not necessarily look to other counties where verdicts or settlements could widely vary. You should understand that many demands also are inflated to allow for negotiations with the insurance company. In response to demands, insurance companies often attempt to make lowball offers to frustrate the injured parties. Don’t be surprised if your case resolves for an amount which is 50 percent less that the initial demand. Allow for ample movement in the negotiation process so both sides can feel like they have had movement or concessions from the other in the negotiating process.
Since personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, they receive a percentage of the settlement as a fee for their services. This means that your attorney has an incentive to negotiate for the highest compensation possible. The amount your attorney asks for in the demand letter will take into account that you'll need to pay your legal fees from the settlement you receive as well as the medical expenses or other reimbursements.
What Happens After the Demand Letter Is Sent?
Sending a demand letter is not the same thing as beginning a lawsuit. In fact, the goal of a demand letter is to settle your case out of court. Approximately 95 percent of personal injury claims are resolved without going to trial, but receiving a settlement can still be a lengthy process.
The demand letter will usually end with a requested timeframe for a response, such as 30 days. The letter may state that the lawyer intends to file a lawsuit if the matter cannot be resolved. This lets the insurance company know you're serious about pursuing compensation for your injuries.
If the insurance adjuster responds before the deadline, he may agree to the initial demand. However, it's more likely that he'll come back with a counteroffer that you will need to evaluate with your attorney. This back and forth process will continue until both sides come to an agreement or negotiations break down and the case goes to trial.
Why Should I Hire an Attorney to Prepare My Demand Letter?
Although you might think it’s a good idea to try to negotiate your own personal injury settlement, insurance adjusters will give more weight to a demand letter written by an experienced law in personal injury matters. Sending the signal that you've retained representation and are fully prepared to go to court if necessary will help persuade the company to resolve your claim in a timely fashion.
Inland Empire Law Group’s attorneys are dedicated to helping California residents receive proper compensation for their auto accident-related personal injury claims. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at either our Rancho Cucamonga or Victorville offices, call (888) MY IE LAW.