If you have been injured in a car accident and are trying to get compensation for your injuries -- either due to medical bills, lost wages, or simple vehicle damage -- you will likely want to serve a demand letter upon the at-fault party, or their insurance company.
A demand letter is exactly what it sounds like -- a demand for compensation based on the nature and extent of your injuries. Car accident injuries may be actual physical injuries, psychological damage, or damage to property (vehicle damage).
An attorney -- particularly an attorney well-versed in personal injury law -- will likely have several variations of demand letter on file that he or she will be able to tailor to your specific situation. Attorneys are capable of advocating your position while subtly threatening legal action. Their mere involvement in the demand sends a message to insurance adjusters and others that you are taking your demand seriously, and formal legal action may follow if the matter is not resolved promptly.
Attorneys, however, do not work for free. It is highly unlikely that an attorney will agree to assist you with drafting a demand letter without agreeing to take a percentage of whatever settlement funds you collect as payment (under a contingency agreement). Be aware that this will reduce the total amount of damages you could ultimately collect.
You are the often the best person to draft a demand letter in a car accident case. As the victim of the accident, you have the most intimate understanding of the nature and extent of your injuries. You know what really happened, and it is likely that any letter you draft will be far more forthright -- and far less peppered with legalese -- than a car accident demand letter drafted by an attorney. The tone of a demand letter is very important, and in many cases an injured party can simply, but powerfully, state their case.
Insurance adjusters and at-fault parties do not always have heart strings that may be readily tugged. Car accident insurance adjusters, in particular, look at each claim with surgeon-like detachment. They see thousands of demand letters in a given year, and yours (regardless of how eloquent or well put together it may be) will likely not make an impression. While this may seem like a negative, the fact of the matter is that you may save yourself time and money drafting your own demand letter.
An adjuster may be more willing to negotiate a car accident settlement with an unrepresented party in an attempt to reach a quick, relatively cheap settlement. Avoiding formal litigation is an insurance adjuster’s mantra, and the absence of formal representation in a demand letter could trigger a willingness to deal.
There are several things to consider when composing your demand letter. In broad strokes, remember to provide examples of how your injuries are affecting your daily life, offer to provide proof of your medical condition, bills and repair costs. And above all, be polite -- but firm. Demand letters should be designed to facilitate the settlement process, not to instigate adversarial litigation. Make your demand, and make it strongly. But word your letter in a polite and professional manner. And above all else, don’t make idle threats. If you feel the need to threaten litigation in your initial demand letter, be sure you are ready to follow up your threat with a lawsuit, otherwise you will have irrevocably eroded your bargaining position.
You do not need a lawyer to serve a car accident demand letter. Many injured parties are perfectly capable of composing and serving their own well-written and effective demand letters. However, if you feel that the task is beyond you, or you have concerns about damaging your bargaining position, seek the assistance of counsel.