At some point after you're involved in an auto accident, you'll need to send the liable party a letter asking that person to pay your damages and losses. This is called a demand letter, and it's usually sent after you've determined how much the defendant owes you, but before you go to court or begin settlement negotiations. Generally, your attorney takes care of this task. If you haven't even talked with an attorney yet, you can learn more here. If you've decided to handle this part of your case on your own, here are two tips that can help you craft a demand letter that'll get results.
Emphasize the Evidence
One of the goals of your demand letter is to get the other person thinking about whether it would be worth it to defend against a lawsuit or to settle out of court.
For example, the defendant may think twice about going to court if he or she estimates it will cost hundreds of dollars in legal fees plus lost wages from taking time off work for court dates if all you're asking for is $1,000 in damages. On the other hand, the person may be more willing to go before a judge if you're asking for thousands or millions of dollars or if they don't have insurance that will cover the requested amount.
You may be able to influence the person's decision-making process by showing you have a strong case against him or her. Review the facts of the case in the letter, and emphasize the type of evidence you have that proves the person is liable for the accident. You can remind the individual that there's video evidence of the person running a red light, for instance. The person may agree to settle for the amount you're asking for if it appears he or she will lose in court.
Touch Upon All the Hidden Costs of Litigation
The liable party will likely already be aware he or she will have to pay attorney's fees and court costs if the individual chooses to defend the lawsuit instead of settling. However, there are many other costs involved with litigating a case besides money.
Lawsuits are public record, meaning everything about the case can be read by anyone. If there are certain things the liable party don't want the public to know—such as if he or she was driving under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident—then the person may be motivated to settle rather than go to court. The terms of settlements are typically not entered into the public record, and non-disclosure agreements can be used to prevent sensitive information from getting out.
Other things you may want to highlight include:
- The time it will take to litigate the case
- The risk of being made to pay punitive damages
- Lost wages or opportunities due to taking time off for court dates
- Loss of business reputation if customers learn about the lawsuit (or personal reputation amongst peers)
- Possible job loss (if the person was doing something illegal at the time)
When reminded of the non-monetary costs associated with going to court, the person may be more willing to pay you what's owed.
If the person rejects your demand for payment, then contact a personal injury attorney who can help you convince the person to negotiate or prepare you for court.