Hawk Law Group | March 23, 2022 | Personal Injury
A settlement demand letter is a letter from someone with a personal injury claim (or their lawyer) to the party responsible for paying that claim, typically an insurance company. Your claim might arise from a car accident, a slip and fall accident, medical malpractice, or some other cause of injury. The purpose of a settlement demand letter is to serve as a starting point for settlement negotiations between the claimant and the responsible party.
Tips for Drafting an Effective Settlement Demand Letter
There is no magic formula for writing an effective settlement demand letter, because no two cases are alike. Nevertheless, nearly every lawyer observes certain general rules. The following sections will describe a few of these rules.
Stay Organized and Concise
Your letter should be clear, concise, specific, and to the point. Draft an outline first, then write your letter based on your outline. In a personal injury claim, the core of your letter should focus on:
- The date, time, and location of the accident;
- The extent of your injuries;
- The medical treatment you have already received;
- The medical treatment you expect to undergo in the future if any;
- The amount of income you have lost (or expect to lose) because of the injury; and
- The extent of your pain and suffering and other non-economic damages.
Include every direct loss you can think of, such as child care expenses you incurred while you were convalescing.
Do Not Make a Specific Dollar Demand
Do not include a dollar amount in your claim, because doing so could bind you to that amount unnecessarily. Remember that medical expenses and lost earnings do not necessarily exhaust your claim. You might claim pain and suffering damages, for example, and these are difficult to calculate.
The only exception to this rule is if you are certain that you know the relevant insurance policy limits, and you are certain that your claim is worth more than these policy limits. In that case, you can demand the full policy limits.
Take Care to Avoid Damaging Admissions
Look over your letter several times and eliminate anything irrelevant. The other side can use any statement you make in a demand letter against you if the truth of that statement might damage your claim. The longer your demand letter is, the more likely it is to include a damaging admission.
Rely on Persuasion, Not Threats
If your letter comes across as rude or threatening, they might just toss it in their “archives” file, sit back, and dare you to sue them. In extreme cases, you might even face civil extortion charges for an over-the-top settlement demand setter.
Include Relevant Documents
Documentation can strengthen your claim. Relevant documentation might include:
- The police report for the accident (even though you normally cannot use it as evidence in court);
- Eyewitness statements;
- Medical bills;
- Evidence of your past earnings (for a lost earnings claim); and
- Other relevant documentation.
Consult with your lawyer before sending any documents, because some types of documentation might damage your claim.
Don’t Include a Deadline for Settlement Unless You Mean It
The South Carolina statute of limitations sets the ultimate deadline for filing a lawsuit. Normally, this deadline is three years after the date of the accident. You don’t need to mention this deadline in your letter, because the other side should already know it. Don’t demand settlement by an earlier deadline unless you mean it, however. If you do include a specific deadline to either settle or face a lawsuit, be sure to file a personal injury lawsuit by that deadline.
Include a Deadline for a Response
Include a specific deadline for a response. Mention that if the other side fails to respond, you reserve the right to pursue all available legal remedies. Failing to include a specific deadline can send your demand letter to the bottom of the reader’s pile of “matters to deal with.”
Get Your Lawyer Involved Early On
Ideally, you should have your lawyer draft your settlement demand letter. If you decide not to, at least allow your lawyer to read over your draft and suggest changes. Consider asking your lawyer to negotiate your claim for you. Remember, your lawyer cannot settle your claim without your consent. If you try to handle settlement negotiations on your own, odds are the other side will find a way to trip you up, despite bad faith insurance laws.
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We also serve in Edgefield County, SC.