Determining how much you should ask for in a car accident demand letter can be as simple as adding up the costs of repairs to your vehicle, or as complex as determining the potential cost of long term medical care. While there is no reliable plug-and-play formula that will spit out an exact dollar amount, the following tips should help you better quantify your damages and figure out an appropriate demand.
If you are in a car accident and your own vehicle sustains damage, any demand letter should include a calculation of the cost necessary to repair or replace your vehicle. Determining repair or replacement cost is relatively simple. If your car has already been repaired, simply use the actual amounts paid to calculate your demand for reimbursement. Be sure to include any car rental costs you incurred while your vehicle was out of commission. If you were forced to carpool or take public transportation, include the cost of gas money or bus/train fare in your demand.
If you cannot afford repairs without reimbursement from the at-fault driver (or his insurance company), get at least three estimates of what it will cost to repair your vehicle. Hopefully, they will all be in the same ballpark. Use those numbers to calculate the potential cost of repair, and attach the estimates to your demand letter. Be sure to explain that you will incur costs for substitute transportation while your car is in the shop, and include those costs in your demand.
Medical expenses are probably the biggest part of the equation when deciding how much to ask for in your car accident demand letter. Medical expenses can be tricky to calculate, particularly in catastrophic injury cases. The cost of ongoing care, if needed, can be difficult to estimate and/or reduce to a "lump sum" number that represents a fair settlement. In more minor cases, simply total up all of your medical expenditures relating to the accident and use that number when calculating your demand. Be sure to save all bills, receipts and proofs of payment to back up your calculations. (Use this Checklist of Records to Gather After a Car Accident.)
In more severe cases, where long-term care will be an issue, it is essential that you determine the per-week, per-month or per-year cost of your care, inclusive of all doctor visits, prescriptions, rehab, hospital stays and in-home care. Estimating these amounts can be difficult, and will require some work on your part. It is essential that you talk about the cost and duration of care with your medical providers as soon as possible, so you are able to formulate a global cost-of-care. If you don't, you could be left guessing and more often than not you will underestimate your potential medical expenses.
In catastrophic injury cases -- cases involving brain damage, loss of limb, paralysis, etc. -- you'll want to consult with an attorney to calculate a demand. Attorneys, particularly those who practice in the personal injury arena, are familiar with the prevailing trends in both settlements and verdicts, and will be better situated to estimate your medical expenses in the most catastrophic cases. Learn more about When You Need an Attorney for a Car Accident Demand Letter.
Replacement services should be considered when determining how much to ask for in your car accident demand letter. Replacement services are those you need to hire out for because you are physically incapable of performing them yourself. Child care, home repair and maintenance, and the cost of alternative transportation are the most common types of medically necessitated replacement services. Be sure to include these in any car accident demand letter, because but for the accident you would not have incurred these expenses.
Putting a dollar amount on pain and suffering is, in theory, easy. There is nothing to stop you from simply making up a number that you consider to be appropriate compensation for the disruption the accident has caused your daily life. However, be sure not to over- or underestimate the worth of your case. Again, in relatively simple cases (those involving only property damage, or property damage and minor injuries that will have no lasting effect) calculating pain and suffering damages should be relatively simple. $2,500 to $5,000 for pain and suffering is a very common demand for pain and suffering in minor car accidents.
The more pain and suffering, the higher the dollar amount should be. Loss of a basic body function, loss of a limb, a closed head injury affecting your earning capacity -- these types of injuries, by their very nature, can cause immeasurable pain and suffering. Keep in mind, however, that you are dealing with an insurance policy that has limits. Certainly, it is possible that a demand for several hundred thousand dollars would be appropriate. But if the funds are simply not available for settlement, even the most sympathetic adjuster won't be able to come to the table with enough money to meet your demand. (Learn more about Pain and Suffering in Car Accident Cases.)
How much should you ask for in your car accident demand letter? The simple answer is to ask for the amount that you believe will make you whole. Remember -- always ask for more than you are willing to settle on, so you have room to negotiate. And if your injuries are serious and your financial needs more immediate, it may be time to get a lawyer involved.