A demand letter is a formal notice sent by a plaintiff, or someone who has been wronged, to present their case to a potential defendant. It informs the reader what they did to the plaintiff, what they can do to compensate the plaintiff, and the legal action that may follow if they fail to act. In many cases, a demand letter announces the plaintiff’s intention to pursue a lawsuit against the defendant.
A well-written demand letter is crucial to any civil claim as it introduces all the parties involved; the defendant, plaintiff, and their representatives. It also sets the tone for negotiations and may be useful in avoiding a trial. Below, we provide you with some top tips for writing an effective demand letter.
Tips for Writing a Demand Letter
Consider the following pointers when drafting your demand letter:
Summarize Your Argument in the First Paragraph
An effective demand letter tells the reader what your reason for writing is at the first glance. Tell your main point or summarize the dispute in the first two sentences of your letter. Typically, this includes a statement about the damage done and your demand for compensation. For example, ‘on 12 May, you hit my client with your car and we are seeking financial retribution.’
The summary in the first two sentences should do nothing but give the reader a scope of the situation. You must then go into details about what happened, when, why, and how it happened, as well as why you believe the reader is responsible and what they can do to fix the situation. Basically, you want to include as many facts and figures as possible including, but not limited to, the following:
- Your full name, contact information, and address
- The defendant’s full name
- The nature of the accident/wrongdoing through which you suffered harm or loss
- The date, location, and prevailing conditions on the day of the incident
- The damages you suffered in measurable terms
- Your demand for compensation, with a dollar amount
- A deadline for the reader to respond
Only Include Facts
When it comes to demand letters, the rule of thumb is; if you can’t prove it, don’t include it in your letter. Try to stick to the facts of your case as much as possible by giving exact dates, durations, addresses, and monetary values. If there are documents related to the case that prove your claim, such as invoices and receipts, mention and attach them to your letter.
Note: It is advisable to use terms of approximation if you are unsure of the exact parameters of the time, distance, or location of an accident. Examples include ‘like,’ ‘about,’ and ‘approximately.’
Present a Reasonable Ask
While the first paragraph may go to introducing the dispute and the second to expounding on it, the third paragraph is usually dedicated to laying out your demands. Be as reasonable as possible when doing this and quantify your economic losses with a dollar amount. For ‘pain and suffering’ which is hard to quantify, use the estimate provided by your attorney.
Use Simple, Formal Language
In some cases, demand letters are exchanged between attorneys, and may be written in legalese. However, it is crucial that you consider that your reader may not be a lawyer and may not understand legal references. Gauge who your audience might be and use simple language as much as possible.
Avoid Aggressive Language
It is normal to feel hurt, offended, or angry after an accident that wasn’t your fault or an unlawful act that cost you money. That said, you should keep your personal feelings out of your demand letter. Don’t use aggressive or defamatory language, avoid calling the reader names, and don’t go out of your way to embarrass them.
Send the Letter Via Certified Mail
A demand letter may serve as crucial evidence in your lawsuit if your case goes to trial. If the defendant argues that they never received your letter, and it turns out to be true, your claim could be weakened. To prevent such hassle, you should always send your demand letter via certified mail and get proof of receipt. You could also pay the court to deliver the document.
An effective demand letter gives both parties the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the case. The document can be used to provide a summary during depositions or as evidence in court. By using these tips for writing an effective demand letter, you can give yourself or your client a strong stand for settlement negotiation.