When you're trying to settle a personal injury case after any kind of accident, the demand letter often serves as the centerpiece of the negotiation process. In this correspondence, you set out to the other side (or to the other side's insurance adjuster) your strongest arguments concerning:
Your letter should conclude with a demand for a lump sum to settle your entire claim.
Before beginning to write your personal injury demand letter, review your notes from the days and weeks following the accident to remind yourself of the details—your pain, discomfort, inconvenience, disruption of life, and medical treatment. (Learn more about the importance of taking notes after an accident or injury.) Then concentrate on the following elements as you draft your letter.
Start by describing how the accident happened and why the insured person was at fault. In plain language, briefly describe where you were and what you were doing immediately before the accident, then how the accident occurred.
In many accidents, there is some question about whether your own carelessness contributed to the accident even though the other person was primarily at fault. Meet this issue head-on in your demand letter by denying that you share any amount of fault whatsoever. (Learn more about negligence and liability for an accident.)
Even if you believe you might have been partly at fault for the accident, do not admit that in your demand letter. Although you must consider your own carelessness in deciding what a fair settlement is, it is not your job to make comparative negligence arguments for the insurance company. If and when an insurance adjuster brings up the subject during settlement negotiations, you can debate the question then.
Describe your injuries and treatments—and don't be shy. Emphasize your pain, the length and difficulty of your recovery, the negative effects of your injuries on your daily life (such as "pain and suffering"), and any long-term or permanent injury—especially if it is disabling or disfiguring, such as permanent stiffness, soreness, or scarring.
Of course, you shouldn't make things up or be overly dramatic. Insurance companies will turn a deaf ear to claims they believe are false. Use appropriate medical terms wherever possible—for example, "narrowing of disk spacing" rather than "strained back."
Include a complete list of each medical provider who treated you and the total amount charged by each.
Make a brief statement of the amount of time you missed from work because of your injuries, and refer to whatever letter you have from your employer verifying your pay and missed time. If you are irregularly or self-employed, explain how you arrived at the total figure for lost income.
If you suffered extra or unusual discomforts, embarrassments, inconvenience, or losses as a result of your injuries, mention them in your demand letter.
In the last paragraph of your letter, demand a specific sum of money as total compensation for your pain, suffering, lost income, and other losses (collectively, these are your "damages"). Set out a figure that is higher than what you think your claim is actually worth (a general rule is 75% to 100% higher than what you would be satisfied with); this allows you some room to negotiate with the insurance adjuster. (For help determining the settlement demand figure, see Nolo's article how insurers value an injury claim.)
Along with your demand letter, send the insurance company copies of documents, records, letters, bills or other writings supporting the things you describe in your letter. (Keep all originals for your own files.)
For help tailoring your demand letter to the specifics of your accident, and making your best argument, see How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). For a simple, inexpensive demand letter template, get Nolo's eForm Demand Letter. Finally, check out Nolo's claim-specific collection of Sample Demand Letters before putting together your own demand to the insurance company.