How to structure a demand for a personal injury claim
A payment demand letter is that one last step you can take before filing a lawsuit for a car accident, slip and fall, or some other type of incident. It’s that last “Hail Mary” before you have to enter the court system.
In many cases, a person may try to draft their own payment demand letter to the person who owes them money. This makes many in the legal industry happy, as it paradoxically keeps them in business when individuals try to draft things on their own. Documents become riddled with mistakes, or they end up buying draft templates online that don’t fit the situation at hand. Then, when things go wrong, people end up seeking legal counsel anyway. It makes more sense just to hire a lawyer at the beginning of the process and make sure things don’t go awry.
Below are six steps to properly drafting a payment demand letter and handling the process of this last step before filing a lawsuit.
1. State the facts to the person who did you wrong, but recite them as if that person had never heard them before. This letter might eventually become a piece of evidence, so you want to be clear, concise and balanced in your recitation of what happened.
2. Send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested (you want to have proof that you sent it, after all, and that your intended recipient received it).
3. Demand a response within a reasonable time (seven days is generally fair).
4. Make a reasonable monetary demand (aim a bit high and leave room for negotiation).
5. Talk to a lawyer if the defendant refuses to negotiate.
6. Remain calm and patient through the court proceedings.
It’s always about the money
A personal injury case is usually going to be about damages – economic or non-economic, also known as special or general, which means either medical bills, out-of-pocket costs like gas for traveling to doctors’ appointments, child care, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and more. We discussed damages at length in this article.
Of course, the defendant is going to argue that your damages can’t possibly be that bad. This is why you should back up your payment demand letter with any evidence you believe will help your case: medical records, a doctor’s note, MRI results, aggregate bills, what have you. Anything that shows the totality of your expenses to date will help you gain a more appropriate settlement.
A lawsuit requires the help of a good lawyer
Sometimes those six steps and a payment demand letter won’t be enough on their own, and you’ll need the help of an experienced attorney in your corner. A lawyer will know what approach to take to obtain compensation as quickly as possible, and that attorney will be able to use the work you have done up until that point as a springboard from which to jump. This will result in the person who was hurt (i.e., you) getting the money that you deserve.
How much will a lawyer cost?
There are a number of reasons why the cost of the lawyer will differ from case to case. It depends on several factors. If the case is very complex, it will obviously cost more because it will require more resources and time. A simple case that will not take a lot of time will cost less. The first consultation with a lawyer will usually be of little or no cost because he or she will just be listening to the fact pattern and figuring out what type of case it actually is. This is so they can find out the information they need to determine if a court case can be won for the plaintiff (i.e., the person who has been hurt).
When someone enlists the help of a lawyer to get the money they are owed, they need to be honest and upfront about the conditions that were in place when they did not receive the money. The lawyer can then develop a case that will hold up in a court of law that will allow for the full justification of the person that was hurt.
Stay calm and don’t panic
It is important that a person not let their emotions get the best of them during a lawsuit. They will want to take time to just relax and not think about it if they don't need to. Some court cases can take many months to resolve and others can go on for years. It is best that they learn how to take time away from the situation and enjoy other aspects of their lives while the court case is under litigation.
Following the six steps listed above when writing a payment demand letter will increase the odds the defendant will approve your request, and therefore avoid court.
A payment demand letter will only have the desired effect in about a third of all cases that use them. If your attempt to settle out of court is unsuccessful, however, you may need to hire a personal injury attorney. If you need help finding someone to help you, try starting here in the Enjuris directory.
Resources to help you hire the best lawyer
- Choosing a personal injury attorney – interview questions
- When do you NOT need an attorney after an accident?
- Preparing to meet with a personal injury attorney
- How damages are calculated
- How to talk to a lawyer
- Negotiating lawyers’ fees - how do accident lawyers charge? Are there any hidden costs?