A demand letter in a car accident case is a request for payment. If you've been in an accident that isn't your fault, you should send a demand letter to the at-fault party's insurance company to try to settle your claim before you file a car accident lawsuit.
An effective demand letter tells your side of the story and includes supporting documents to back up your claims about liability for the accident and your losses (damages). You shouldn't send a demand letter until you have a good understanding of the full extent of your accident-related losses. A well-drafted demand letter kicks off productive negotiations and can help settle your car accident claim.
Here are some tips on how to write an effective demand letter. You might also want to check out Nolo's sample demand letters for personal injury claims, including car accidents.
Your demand letter should be sent to the at-fault party's insurance carrier. If possible, you'll want to address the letter to the insurance adjuster assigned to the case.
The heading of your demand letter should include the:
The first paragraph should describe the car accident and your injuries. Explain how the other driver is to blame for the accident and back up your position with relevant traffic laws. If the other driver was cited for a traffic violation, be sure to mention it here.
The second paragraph should describe the damage to your property with estimates of how much it will cost to repair or replace the property.
The next paragraph should focus on your medical diagnosis and treatment. List your treatments in chronological order with bills for each treatment. If treatment hasn't ended, provide an estimate of future medical expenses.
Most of what you recover for your injuries is compensation for pain, discomfort, and disruption of your daily life. Use this paragraph to describe what you went through, or had to miss or give up, because of your injuries.
The last paragraph of your demand letter should summarize your injuries and offer to settle the case for a specific amount of money. Your initial demand should be higher than what you expect to receive, but still reasonable.
A demand letter should lay out your strongest arguments concerning liability (fault) and detail your accident-related losses, including:
The insurance company isn't going to be persuaded to pay you based on your word alone. You'll have to provide evidence to support your position, like police reports, accident scene photos, medical records, bills from your medical care providers, and a letter from your employer verifying your pay and time away from work.
For example, let's say you injured your leg in a car accident. After the accident, you were taken to the city hospital by ambulance where you had surgery. After surgery, you went to a private physical therapy clinic for six weeks. Before you write your demand letter, request copies of your medical records and bills from the ambulance company, the city hospital, and your physical therapist.
If your injuries will require long-term treatment, you should ask your medical provider to provide an estimate of the costs of long-term treatment, and then include that estimate in your demand letter.
Gathering documents can be a tedious and expensive process. Some agencies will charge a fee to produce copies of your records. You may have to pay the fee upfront or you may receive a bill after the records are produced. These fees can add up, but an insurance company won't take your demand seriously without proof of your losses.
A demand letter in a car accident case should be sent at the right time—not too early and not too late. But when is the right time?
The most important rule is that you shouldn't send a demand letter in any personal injury case until you have either reached a point of maximum medical improvement (MMI) or are very close to that point.
MMI is that point in your recovery when you are as good as you are likely to get. You may not have fully recovered, but your car accident injuries are stable and you have a clear picture of your medical future. You want to wait until you are at MMI to send your demand letter, so that you have an understanding of the full extent of your injuries and know how to value your claim.
A demand letter is an offer to settle. Once you settle, you're agreeing to release the other party—forever—from liability in connection with the accident. If your injuries turn out to be worse than you first thought, you can't go back and demand more money.
For example, let's say you broke your wrist in a car accident. You want to move the case along quickly so that you can get paid and be done with the hassle of an insurance claim. You assume that you'll fully recover fully, so you make a settlement demand based on being out of work for three weeks. The insurance company quickly agrees to your demand. You sign a settlement agreement and release of liability.
But it turns out that your wrist never fully heals and you can't go back to your old job. You are forced to take a new job for much lower pay. Your claim would have been worth a lot more if you had known your injury was permanent, but you settled the case. You can't reopen the case and file a lawsuit.
Adjusters go through claimants' files with a fine-toothed comb. They will not make a settlement offer until they have reviewed every single medical record, medical bill, and proof of lost earnings that relates to your claim. If you are missing even one medical record or bill, the adjuster will probably not make an offer.
It isn't worth your time to send a demand letter until you have gathered all of your medical records and other supporting documents necessary for the adjuster to evaluate your claim.
If more than six months have gone by since your accident, find out how much time you have to file a car accident lawsuit in your state. Each state puts a strict time limit—called the statute of limitations—on your right to file a lawsuit. If you don't either settle your case or file a lawsuit before your state's statute of limitations expires, your case is very likely over. You'll lose your right to sue and recover damages.
You'll want to send a demand letter well before the statute of limitations runs, so that the adjuster has enough time to consider your claim and make an offer. If the time limit for filing a lawsuit is coming up in the next six months or so, mention it to the adjuster. The statute of limitations is your problem, not the insurance company's, but most adjusters want to settle claims before a lawsuit is filed.
In some cases, it's pretty easy to come up with a settlement demand figure. If your losses are limited to vehicle damage, you might be able to simply look at the bill you got from your mechanic. Figuring out how much to demand in cases involving permanent injuries is much more complicated.
While there is no reliable plug-and-play formula that will spit out an exact settlement value of your claim, the following tips should help you better put a dollar amount on your damages and figure out how much to demand.
If your car is damaged in the accident, your demand letter should include the cost to repair or replace your vehicle. If your car has already been repaired, ask for reimbursement for your repair bills. Be sure to include transportation costs you had to pay while your car was out of commission, such as the cost of a rental car or bus fare.
If you are waiting for the insurance company to cover your repairs, get a few estimates for how much it will cost to fix your car. Use those numbers to calculate your demand and attach the estimates to your letter. Remind the adjuster that you will run up substitute transportation costs as long as your car is in the shop, and include those costs in your demand.
Learn more about who pays for vehicle damage after a car accident and what to do when an insurer says your car is a total loss.
Medical expenses are likely to be the trickiest to calculate, especially in cases involving serious injuries. For example, the cost of ongoing care can be difficult to estimate and reduce to a lump sum number that represents a fair settlement.
In cases involving minor injuries, you can total up your accident-related medical bills and use that number when calculating your demand. Be sure to save all bills and receipts to back up your demand. (Use this Checklist of Records to Gather After a Car Accident.)
In cases involving serious cases, you should talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can help you estimate the per-week, per-month, or per-year cost of care, including all doctor visits, prescriptions, rehab, hospital stays, and in-home care.
Talk to your health care providers about the cost and length of your treatment plan as soon as possible. If you don't, you could be left guessing, and will likely underestimate your potential medical expenses.
If you missed work because of the accident, say so in your demand letter and include a letter from your employer verifying your pay and missed time. You don't have to explain why you missed work. If the insurance company wants to challenge your claim that you were unable to work, you can talk that out during negotiations.
If you are self-employed, explain how you came up with your total figure for lost income.
Most of what you recover for your injuries in a car accident case is compensation for pain and suffering, discomfort, and disruption in your daily life. Don't be shy about describing the pain, inconvenience, and other losses you've experienced. But don't be overly dramatic either. (Learn more about how to calculate pain and suffering in car accident cases.)
You'll also want to ask for reimbursement for unpaid work that you would normally do yourself—childcare, cleaning, landscaping—but have had to outsource because of the car accident.
In the last paragraph of your letter, demand a specific amount of money as total compensation for your property damage, medical bills, pain, suffering, and other losses. To arrive at the final number, consider using a damage formula.
The demand figure in your letter should be higher than the amount you would agree to settle your claim. The letter is the beginning of negotiations, not the end. Your demand should start high, the insurer's first offer will likely be low, and you'll agree on a number somewhere in between. Just don't make your opening demand outrageously high. Your demand should be high, but believable.
If you have questions about the demand letter process, talk to a car accident lawyer. A lawyer can help you value your claim, gather supporting documents, and write a letter that an adjuster will take seriously.
Learn more about hiring a car accident lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.