Writing an Effective Demand Letter in a Car Accident Case

A good demand letter can be key to getting a satisfactory injury settlement after a car accident.

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If you have been in a car accident, you may be trying to resolve your injury claim with the other driver’s insurance company. This can be a difficult task. Generally speaking, insurance companies want to settle each claim they receive for as little money as possible. It is often said, “You earn every penny you can get from an insurance company.” That is why people often hire a lawyer to handle the claim resolution process.

You can resolve insurance claims without the assistance of a lawyer. One key component of successfully resolving your claim is submitting an effective settlement demand letter. An effective letter should accurately summarize the nature of your claim and convey to the insurance company that you understand what the value of your claim should be. The purpose of this article is to help you maximize the effectiveness of your demand letter.

Request Your Medical Records

One of the first things you will need to do is request copies of your medical records. The insurance company will do this as well. Your medical records will establish what your injuries are. They will probably also include some discussion of the cause of your injuries. This is important because the insurance company will likely try to attribute your injuries to something other than your car accident. Your medical records will likely establish the critical link between your accident and your injuries, and you will need to describe and emphasize that link in your demand letter.

You may have difficulty understanding your medical records. You need not understand them completely, but it is important you at least have a general idea what your records say about the nature and extent of your injuries.

Document Your injury

In addition to your medical records, it is a good idea to keep a journal in which you record experiences related to your injuries. For example, you may write down something like, “I tried to replace my alternator today, but I couldn’t grip my tools. So I had to hire a mechanic.” Describing specific activities that you legitimately cannot perform -- or special events that you miss out on -- due to the accident can enhance the value of your injury claim and should be included in your demand letter.

Establish the Extent of Property Damage

As with personal injuries, you need to prove any property damage resulting from the car accident. You can typically get a repair estimate from an auto body shop to satisfy this need. It is a good idea to get two or three estimates to show that the amount you are requesting is reasonable.

Very often, insurance companies will resolve a property damage claim before a bodily injury claim. If this is the case, you may not need to include a claim for property damage in your demand letter.

Document Your Expenses

Keep track of every expense you incur that is reasonably connected to your accident. For example, you may have incurred additional gasoline expenses traveling to doctors’ appointments to treat your injuries. These items may rightfully be included in your settlement demand. You are not likely to receive compensation for any undocumented expense -- so keep track of them all.

Be Organized

An effective demand letter is well-organized. Group your expenses into categories. Make headings. Make it look as professional as possible. The organization and presentation of your demand letter may not be the difference between night and day, but it will likely help more than you might expect.

Do Not Exaggerate and Do Not Be Greedy

You want to maximize the amount of your recovery, but it will be counterproductive to be greedy and/or unreasonable. If you try to exaggerate your injuries, or ask for far more than you are entitled to, it will work against you. You are not likely to frighten or trick the insurance company; so it is best not to try.

Calculating “Pain and Suffering”

If you suffered bodily injuries, you are usually entitled to recover what is known as “pain and suffering” damages. Because there is no hard and fast rule for calculating “pain and suffering,” it can be easy to over-inflate.

In calculating pain and suffering, insurance companies look at the severity and permanency of your bodily injuries. In other words, you will be entitled to more money for pain and suffering if you broke three ribs than if you bruised your leg.

Insurance companies typically multiply the amount of medical bills by a number between one and five to calculate “pain and suffering.” The more severe and permanent the injury, the higher the multiplier. Use your best judgment in estimating your pain and suffering, and explain your calculation in your demand letter. Learn more about Figuring Out the Value of an Injury Claim.

Seek Professional Legal Advice

Wrestling with an insurance company over a claim can be frustrating and time consuming. Lawyers who handle car accident cases write demand letters to insurance companies all the time. They know what works and what doesn't. You will have to pay a percentage of your recovery to the attorney who assists you, but many people find it is worth the money to avoid the hassle and maximize their recovery. Ultimately, you must decide for yourself whether you wish to hire a lawyer.

Get more information on putting together your best demand letter -- and see sample letters for different kinds of injury cases -- in Nolo's Demand Letters section.

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