If your car has been damaged in a car accident that was someone else's fault, you'll likely send the at-fault party's insurance company a demand letter asking for compensation to have your car repaired or replaced. A demand letter is your attempt to settle your car accident claim before you file a civil lawsuit.
A demand letter is a convincing written claim for a specific amount of compensation. An effective demand letter is the centerpiece of a car accident settlement. Your letter should explain:
When you write your demand letter, keep your goals in mind. The best demand letters stick to the facts and include supporting documentation. Here are a few tips on how to write a professional demand letter that your opponent will take seriously:
Type your letter. If you don't have a computer, ask if you can use a friend's or use one of the computers at your local public library.
Be polite. Don't personally attack the other side or use overly emotional language in your demand letter. Your goal is to reach an agreement, not to provoke an angry or dismissive response.
Keep it short, but not too short. Your letter needs to include all of the important facts, but unnecessary details and dramatic elaborations will only distract from your position. Your letter should include a concise factual summary of the accident, an overview of your damages, your settlement demand, and not much more.
Review the facts. Tell your side of the story with documents like police reports, witness statements, photographs, repair estimates, appraisals, and state laws (like the Vehicle Code) to support your position. Organize your store in chronological order with specific dates.
Ask for what you want, but be reasonable. Don't expect the other side to read your mind. Demand a specific amount. You might want to ask for a little more than what you want so that you have room to negotiate, but don't be unreasonable. Your settlement demand figure has to be connected to your actual losses.
Set a deadline. If you want to motivate a timely response, include a deadline in your letter. For example, you might end your letter with something like, "I look forward to receiving your reply no later than 10 days from the date of this letter. If I don't hear back from you by then, I'll pursue legal remedies."
Keep copies. Make a copy of your demand and all documents you receive in response. If you are corresponding by email, make a folder to keep all emails and replies.
Use certified mail. Send your demand letter by certified mail with a return receipt requested. You can try email first, but if you don't get a response, send the letter by certified mail.
Here is an example of what a winning demand letter might look like in a vehicle damage claim after a car accident.
August 21, 20xx
Dear Mr. Kenny:
As I informed you by email on July 16, 20xx, my car was damaged in an accident with your insured, William Jenkins. I was stopped at a stop sign on July 12, 20xx in Waukesha, WI when Mr. Jenkins slammed into the back of my car with his van. (The words "slammed into" are more dramatic than hit and set the stage for significant property damage.)
Mr. Jenkins was obviously negligent. He rear-ended me while I was waiting at a stop sign. He wasn't paying attention and he was likely speeding when he forcefully hit me. It is an open-and-shut case. (You want to explain how the insured was at fault for the accident and conclude that the insured was negligent. Support your position with facts from sources like police reports, witness statements, and applicable traffic laws in your state. If the insured admitted liability or apologized for causing the accident, you definitely want to mention that in your demand letter. Learn more about driver negligence and car accident claims and rear-end accidents.)
When Mr. Jenkins slammed into my car, my trunk caved in. I have a small Honda, and small cars don't tend to fare very well when they are hit by vans. My regular mechanic recommended that I take my car to Waukesha Body Shop. The mechanics at Waukesha gave me an estimate of $4,600 for a full repair. I have attached a copy of the estimate to this letter, along with photographs of the damage. (In a vehicle damage claim after a car accident, you want to make sure that the insurer has a copy of all documentation supporting the things you describe in your letter, including your mechanic's estimate and photographs of the damage to your car.)
My car is only two years old, and is worth far more than $4,600. I understand that your appraiser estimates that repairs will cost $4,000. Our estimates are not that far apart. The Waukesha Body Shop is an independent, Honda-authorized repair shop. My understanding is that your appraiser's estimate is from a repair shop that regularly works with Northern Insurance and your estimate doesn't itemize each part and labor cost.
Based on Mr. Jenkins' clear liability for the accident and my damages, I demand $4,600.00 to settle this case. This is not a complex claim. If I do not hear from you in two weeks, I'll have no choice but to contact your supervisor and consider filing a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Insurance. (If you can't get a response from the adjuster, you might need to go over the adjuster's head and speak to a supervisor or claims manager. If you still can't get a fair settlement offer, you can explore other options like filing a complaint with the state department of insurance or a lawsuit. Learn more about how to encourage a prompt response from an insurance company.)
Waiting for an insurance company to respond to your demand letter is challenging. In most cases, you'll get a response within a few weeks or months and you'll negotiate a settlement from there. Insurance companies have a financial motive to settle cases as efficiently as possible.
If you don't get a response to your demand letter, you have options. Make sure the insurance adjuster has the necessary documents to make a decision about your claim. Be persistent and talk to a lawyer if the insurance company refuses to make a fair settlement offer. Each state has a deadline for filing a lawsuit (called the "statute of limitations") and you don't want to miss your chance to get compensation for your losses in court.
Learn more about what to do when an insurance company isn't responding to a demand letter.
For more examples of effective demand letters and advice on how to craft a demand letter specific to your accident, check out How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). You can also purchase Nolo's demand letter template.
If your car accident claim involves injuries and medical treatment, check out Nolo's sample demand letters and use them to draft your own letter to the at-fault driver's insurance company:
If you would like help writing a demand letter, talk to an attorney. An attorney can answer your questions and help you strategize a game plan for your car accident claim.
Most car accident attorneys work on a contingency fee, so you probably won't have to pay your lawyer unless you win your case. Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.