Are you considering filing a personal injury lawsuit or medical malpractice claim? You’ll need to know how to write a settlement demand letter, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s one of the first steps you’ll take.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this letter! It can make or break your case before negotiations even begin. Find out why that is, and get the know-how you need to craft a winning letter below.
What is a Settlement Demand Letter?
When you file a personal injury claim, you need to write a settlement demand letter to the party who caused the injury. In most cases, you’ll send it to the insurance company or adjuster. Demand letters are a very important part of the negotiation process.
The main goal of settlement demand letters is to outline what happened and request (demand) payment for your injury. But there’s a lot more to it than pointing fingers and demanding a payoff. You have to provide ample evidence for your claim.
How you write it is also important. It may be called a settlement “demand” letter, but for it to be an effective settlement demand letter, you must keep your tone professional – and include the right details. Keep reading to find out how to write a settlement letter that gets you the best outcome possible.
Before Writing Your Settlement Demand Letter
There are a few things you need to prepare before taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard):
Evidence is what gives your demand letter “weight”. Without it, an insurance adjuster will assume it has no merit. They’ll ignore it, or worse—trash it. So gather all documentation relevant to your case, such as:
- Medical records
- Hospital/clinic/pharmaceutical bills
- A letter from your employer stating how many days of work you missed due to your injury, and how much income you lost
- Pictures (such as photos of your injuries or an accident scene)
- Eyewitness statements
- Expert medical opinions (if needed)
- Your personal diaries or notes (you won’t send them with your demand letter, but they may help you recall details as you write it).
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Writing a settlement demand letter isn’t like writing to a pen pal. You’re addressing it to someone who will look for every minuscule excuse to dismiss your claim. In fact, that’s their job. So what you say in this letter may actually harm your claim instead of help.
This is why it’s best to allow your lawyer to draft the demand letter for you. Or, you might draft it yourself, but have your lawyer edit it.
Should you choose not to hire a lawyer, do some legal research at the very least. You should have a basic understanding of how personal injury and medical malpractice claims work. Knowing and using correct legal terms like “duty of care” and “negligence” will help the adjuster take your claim seriously.
What A Settlement Letter Should Include
These are the essential items every settlement demand letter must mention:
- Key facts about the incident: date, time, location, parties involved, etc.
- Injuries sustained
- Medical treatment received
- Cost of medical treatment and supplies
- Other expenses
- Non-economic damages you suffered (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of companionship, etc.)
- Future expenses you expect to have
- The reason why the other party is liable for your injury
- A request for payment (in some cases, you shouldn’t list an exact dollar amount)
There may be other items you’ll need to include, depending on the nature of your case. Be sure to discuss this with your lawyer, especially if you wish to write the first draft yourself.
How to Write a Settlement Demand Letter
Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of settlement demand letter writing. Start by making an outline. It should look something like this:
- An account of the event that injured you
- A description of your injuries
- List all the medical treatments you had
- Explanation of who’s responsible for your injury, and why
- List of damages
- Make your demand
Next, we’ll tell you what to emphasize under each point.
Tell Your Story
What happened to you? Where did this event take place? Who was involved? Tell your story and list events in the order they occurred. Don’t waste space on details that have nothing to do with your injury. If the color of the car you drove to the hospital isn’t relevant, don’t include it.
Be clear, concise, and don’t exaggerate. If the opposing party catches you in a lie, your case will be thrown out.
Outline Your Injuries and Treatment
Indicate all the physical and emotional injuries you suffered and the treatment you received for them. Be sure to describe how long it took you to recover and the amount of pain you endured. Mention how the injury changed your life for the worse. If your injuries are permanent, emphasize that.
Use precise medical terms when describing your injuries and treatments. Be specific. For example, instead of saying: “I had hip surgery”, say “I had a total hip arthroplasty”. Include your medical records to back up what you write. Otherwise, the insurance adjuster might throw out your claim for lack of proof.
Indicate Who’s Responsible
The point of a settlement demand letter is to request compensation from someone who has wronged you. But they won’t just hand money over and accept fault because you say so.
Your demand letter must state what the guilty party did, and why they’re liable for it in the eyes of the law.
For example, doctors are liable for injuries they cause only when they’re the direct result of negligence.
If a doctor did exactly what he was supposed to do (the standard of care) and caused your injury, he wasn’t negligent. No negligence means no liability.
This is where writing your settlement demand letter can get tricky. Let’s assume you’re not an expert on the standard of care for the particular medical situation involved in your care. It may be difficult to explain why the doctor’s actions were wrong. (Unless their error is obvious, such as leaving a surgical instrument in your body after an operation).
In some cases, you may also need to explain why you don’t share any fault in what happened. These are important reasons why you would want a lawyer (and possibly a medical expert to sound off on your demand letter.
List Your Damages and Make Your Demands
After your injury, what was the cost of medical treatment? Do you need round-the-clock care? Do you have daily expenses that you didn’t have before? Did you miss out on weeks of wages? These are economic damages that you’ll ask the liable party to pay. List all your past, present, and future expenses. Back them up with bills and other documents.
After that, list your non-economic damages. These are damages you can’t put a dollar amount on, like emotional distress and disfigurement.
Whether or not you specify an exact amount you want to recover depends on your case. Some states limit the amount of damages you can collect for malpractice cases. So you won’t be able to demand anything over that amount. In that case, you would request the maximum penalty if your damages equal or exceed it.
There’s one thing you can count on. After receiving your settlement letter/personal injury demand letter, the opposing party will come back with a lower offer. Maybe much lower.
Your lawyer can help you negotiate back and forth until the insurer makes an acceptable offer. If not, you may need to try your case in court to get the amount you deserve.
Get Help With Your Settlement Letter
Do you have additional questions about writing a settlement demand letter? We can help! Contact our experienced lawyers for a free consultation.