Personal Injury Demand Letter Basics

Settling your personal injury case may be as easy as writing an effective demand letter.

Updated by , J.D. | Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney

You've been injured in an accident that was someone else's fault. Your first instinct might be to rush to court and file a personal injury lawsuit. But before you do that, try this: Send the other party (or that party's insurance company) a short, clear letter demanding fair payment for your losses.

Most personal injury cases settle. An effective demand letter can be the catalyst that gets negotiations started by:

  • describing the facts of the case—the who, what, where, and when
  • detailing your injuries and damages
  • explaining why the other party is responsible, and
  • demanding a reasonable amount to settle your claims.

In this article, we'll explain why you should write a demand letter. We'll also tell you what your demand letter should include, and give you an example of a basic personal injury demand letter.

Why You Should Write a Demand Letter

A well-written personal injury demand letter does three important things. First, as mentioned above, it starts serious settlement negotiations. If you file a claim with the other side's insurance company, they might make you a settlement offer early on, but it'll almost certainly be a lowball offer. You, the injured party, often need to make the first meaningful move. You do that with your demand letter.

Second, your demand letter lets the other side know that you're not going to just go away. You expect a fair settlement and if that doesn't happen, you'll talk to a personal injury lawyer and file a lawsuit.

Third, the process of writing a demand letter will help you get your case organized. You'll need to think about how best to present the facts. You must gather evidence, like photos of the accident scene, witness statements, and your medical records and bills. And you'll need to do some research to figure out how much your case is worth.

What Your Demand Letter Should Include

The first rule of writing is to know your audience. Your demand letter is almost certainly going to wind up in the hands of an insurance adjuster. This is someone who is responsible for dozens, maybe even hundreds, of claims much like yours. Keep your letter factual and businesslike. Over-the-top rhetoric and emotional pleas won't do you any good. If anything, you'll reveal yourself as an "amateur," someone not to be taken seriously. The proper tone will set the stage for your negotiations.

Here's what your letter should include:

The Facts

Describe the parties who were involved, what happened, and when and where. The insurance adjuster already has one side of the story, as told by the party who injured you. This is your chance to lay out—in factual but descriptive terms—your side of the case. Don't make outlandish accusations or say things you can't prove. Keep in mind that this is the opening round, so to speak, of negotiations. The insurance adjuster might respond by asking you for proof of what you say. If you don't have it, you'll end up looking foolish.

Your Injuries, Medical Treatment, and Damages

Your injuries include every variety of physical and emotional harm you've suffered. Broken bones, torn ligaments, pain, and emotional distress are examples. In the language of insurance companies and lawyers, "damages" is an expression of your injuries in dollars and cents.

Be sure you take the time to describe your injuries in detail. Again, don't exaggerate, but be thorough. Injuries and damages are the "engine" that drives settlement value, so be sure the insurance adjuster knows everything. Attach copies of your medical records and bills to prove what you're claiming.

Damages come in two basic categories: Economic damages (sometimes also called "special" damages) are losses that are easily expressed in dollars—things like medical bills, lost wages, and the cost of medical equipment such as crutches or a wheelchair. Noneconomic damages (sometimes also called "general" damages) are losses that are more difficult to quantify—pain and suffering, emotional distress, disability and disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life are common examples.

How do you calculate a value for noneconomic damages? There's no single "correct" rule. Most attorneys and insurance adjusters use a multiple of medical expenses to arrive at a figure. In a "typical" personal injury case, the multiple is two or three times medical damages. But if the facts are especially shocking or the injuries are severe, the multiple might be five (or even more) times medical expenses.

So, for example, if your medical expenses total $20,000, you might value your noneconomic damages at three times that amount, or $60,000. Then you add your economic and noneconomic damages together to arrive at a settlement value for the case.

Why the Other Side is Responsible

To win in court, you must be able to prove that the other side is to blame for your injuries. The insurance adjuster will need to be convinced of this, too. In most personal injury cases, this means proving that the other side was negligent. In general, proving negligence means showing that the other side failed to act as a reasonable person would have under the circumstances, and that this failure caused your injuries and damages.

Your Settlement Demand

At this point, all the hard work is done. All that's left is to total your damages and make your settlement demand. Be sure to let the insurance adjuster know that this is a prefiling demand and that if you must file a lawsuit your demand will go up.

Sample Demand Letter

Tucker's Fix-It-Quick Garage
9938 Main St.
Chicago, IL 61390

July 1, 20xx

Dear Mr. Tucker,

On February 15, 20xx, I was injured when I took my car to your garage for service. This letter is my prefiling settlement demand.

Facts

As you likely recall, the morning before I was injured there had been a snowstorm. The storm left between two and four inches of snow across the city. Before I took my car to your garage the morning after the storm, I made stops at my pharmacy and my dry cleaner. Both of those businesses had taken steps to plow and salt their lots, which were clear and easy to navigate.

Your lot, by contrast, was still packed with snow and what looked to be ice. After I met with you and left my car keys, I tried to make my way across your lot to where a friend of mine, who was giving me a ride to work, was parked. Before I got five steps into your lot I slipped and fell. As I fell, I reached out my left hand to break my fall. What I broke was my hand.

My Injuries and Medical Treatment

Instead of taking me to work, my friend drove me to the Southside Hospital Emergency Room. The attending doctor ordered X-rays, which showed that there were two broken bones in my hand. The doctor put my hand in a rigid splint, referred me to an orthopedic doctor, and prescribed a painkilling medicine to help with the severe pain and discomfort I experienced.

The orthopedist, Dr. Mary Franks, was able to see me the next day. She put my hand and lower arm in a cast, which I wore for five weeks. Once the cast came off, Dr. Franks sent me for three weeks of physical therapy. Regaining range of motion in my hand was very painful. To cope with the pain, I regularly took over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen. Dr. Franks says my hand is as good as it will get, but I still experience pain and discomfort at times when I use it. She says that will last for some time and may be permanent.

Your Responsibility

Your negligence caused my fall. I was a customer on your business property. The law requires that you take reasonable steps to keep your business property safe for your customers. This, unfortunately, you completely failed to do. You had more than enough time to clear your lot, as proved by the fact that other local businesses had done so even before I arrived at your place.

As a result of your negligence, I fell and was hurt. I've incurred significant medical expenses. In addition, as detailed below, because I had to get medical treatment for my injuries, I missed two days of work at my job as a cashier. You are legally responsible for all of my injuries and damages.

My Economic Damages

I've attached all my medical records and bills. To date, my medical expenses are:

Provider

Amount

Southside Hospital

$845

Southside X-Ray

$288

Dr. Mary Franks

$520

Lake Area Physical Therapy

$700

Get Well Pharmacy

$70

TOTAL

$2,423

I work as a cashier at the Reddi-Mart on South Olive. I missed two full days of work (16 hours) at my hourly pay of $12. My lost earnings total $192, bringing my total economic damages to $2,615. For ease of discussion, I've rounded this down to $2,600.

My Noneconomic Damages

In addition to my economic losses, you are also responsible for my pain and suffering and the emotional distress I've experienced as a result of this incident. I'm confident that a jury would award me an amount equal to three times my medical expenses, or $7,269, to fairly compensate me for these losses. My total damages come to $9,869.

Settlement Demand

In the spirit of compromise, I'm willing to accept the sum of $9,500 to settle all of my claims against you. Please understand that this is my prefiling settlement demand. If I am forced to file a lawsuit, I'll ask a jury to award substantially more. Finally, note that this is an attempt to settle my claims against you. If I must take my case to court, nothing in this settlement demand will be admissible in evidence.

Please let me hear from you within 30 days from the date of this letter.

Sincerely,
Marsha T. Rizzoli

Other Issues

If your demand letter finds its way to an insurance adjuster, you can expect a reply, even if that reply is "We're not making an offer," or an unacceptably low offer. If the other side won't make any offer, then you'll need to decide if you want to file in court. Before you spend your time and money there, you should consider talking to an experienced personal injury lawyer to see if the case is worth pursuing.

If the offer is unacceptably low, then you'll need to make a counteroffer. You want to be able to do that intelligently, and that will mean understanding why the insurer's offer was so low. Perhaps you simply overvalued your case. Or maybe the insurance adjuster is testing your nerve to see how you, a non-attorney, handle negotiations. Here too, it can be worth your while to speak to an attorney who understands how insurance negotiations work.

To see more sample letters for other kinds of personal injury claims, visit our Demand Letters section.

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