Personal injury accidents are extremely common. New York City alone suffered nearly 10,000 motor vehicle accidents in the month of July 2021, many of them involving serious injuries. When you have a personal injury claim, you send a settlement demand letter to the defendant or to the defendant’s insurance company. This letter describes your claim and demands that the opposing party compensate you for your losses.
The settlement demand letter is the first step in negotiations with the opposing party that could lead to a generous settlement. That is why your settlement demand letter needs to be persuasive and effective. You should ask your lawyer to draft the demand letter. If you draft it yourself, at least allow a lawyer to review it.
Following are a few tips that can help you maximize the effectiveness of your settlement demand letter:
Create an Outline of Your Settlement Demand Letter Before You Write It
A settlement demand letter is usually structured something like this:
- A brief description of the accident
- A description of your injuries;
- Why the other party is responsible for your injuries
- What medical treatment you have received, and how much it cost;
- The amount of your lost earnings;
- The amount of any other losses you suffered;
- Why you’re qualified to make a claim to the insurance company despite New York’s no-fault auto insurance system; and
- A demand for compensation.
Use the foregoing as a general guide to structuring your demand letter. You might need to vary it somewhat depending on the specific facts surrounding your claim.
Use a Polite and Professional Tone
You might be very angry. In fact, if your claim is valid, your anger is likely justified. Don’t let any of that anger creep into your settlement demand letter. Human nature dictates that such a tactic is likely to be counterproductive. Your tome should be polite and professional. That doesn’t mean you can’t be firm at the same time.
Keep It Brief, But Not Too Brief
There is no point in writing a long letter that nobody is going to read. On the other hand, it is not a good idea to assume that your reader is familiar with any of the facts of your case.
The insurance company adjuster who reads your letter is probably busy with many claims. Say everything you need to say, but say it briefly, logically, and concisely.
Issue a Compensation Demand
Depending on the circumstances, you might demand the entire policy limit from an insurance company. You might do this if the total value of your claim clearly exceeds these limits. If your claim is below policy limits, at least pad your demand to give yourself some bargaining room. Some lawyers prefer not to insert a specific dollar demand into an initial demand letter, only a general demand for compensation.
Set a Deadline for A Response
Set a specific deadline or a response from the opposing party. You don’t need to demand that the opposing party pay the settlement by that date, but you do need to demand a response by that date. If the opposing party ignores you, you might consider filing a lawsuit in response.
Keep Copies of Everything
Keep copies of every document that you receive that is in any way related to your case. Make sure you have a copy of your medical bills, for example. If you were involved in a car accident, you might request an accident report from the police department. During settlement negotiations, you will need evidence to back up your claim.
Send By Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested
Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, to make it more difficult for the opposing party to deny that they received it.
A Lawyer on Your Side Can Make All the Difference
If you’re trying to settle a small claim, it might not be worth it for you to seek out the services of a personal injury lawyer. If your claim involves a significant amount of money, or you suspect that it does, contact a lawyer to find out for sure. Even a free initial consultation might be enough to get a general idea of the value of your claim.