Settlement Demand Letters | How to Write


How to Write Demand Letters

We get a lot of cases from other lawyers who try and fail to settle personal injury cases. So I’ve seen everything from just sending in some of the medical records with no cover letter, to demand letters longer than Mr. Holland’s Opus (which, admittedly, I never read but it sure sounds long). Being a personal injury lawyer is hard work. There is no way around it. But the absolute worst kind of hard work is hard work that is actually counterproductive. I think some demand letters fall into that category.

No doubt, if you have over $500,000 in medical bills, you have a lot to write about. But summarizing the medical records and laying out every single significant and insignificant element of plaintiff’s intangible damages is just not worth the trouble. You are just not getting the adjuster’s attention with a 15-page letter. I really think some personal injury lawyers write these treatise demand letters to justify what they think is going to be their fee in the case, fearing the “what did you do for me to earn all of this money?” question. Heads up: a long demand letter is not going to solve this for you if that question does arise. (And there are good answers to the question.)

How a Long Detailed Letter Can Backfire

Normally in law and in life, wasted hard work is just that. Wasted hard work. But interminably long demand letters can be paradoxically harmful, particularly if you don’t know what you are doing and don’t have a history of trying cases against that insurance company. Worse still, if you don’t understand the medicine or understand what is an appropriate element of damages, you are making it all the more clear that you don’t have the skill or the will to try the case. In big personal injury cases, the insurance company suspects – often correctly – that the attorney has a lot personally at stake in the cases. (Truth is, lawyers generally should not be handling cases that will make or break their year, but that is a story for another day.) These are clues to the insurance company that no matter how far you stick out your chest, you are never in a million years going to be willing to try the case and you are just trying to get as much as you can to settle the case. I think the size of the letter should be commensurate with the plaintiff’s damages.

But even serious injury cases should be, at most, a summary of the high points in the records and any commentary not in the medical records that underscores the big points on plaintiffs’ pain and suffering. If you write a long email about a soft tissue injury case, you are indirectly telling the insurance company that you don’t know how the game is played. I’m not saying that is accurate or fair. But it is reality. Ultimately, going back to larger personal injury cases, I think the majority of really serious cases go to somebody’s “guy”, the divorce lawyer of the victim’s cousin or the criminal lawyer that got the victim’s brother off the hook when he had a DWI. These lawyers do one of two things: they either handle the case themselves or they pass it over to the lawyer who can best maximize the value of the case.

Why do these lawyers sometimes keep the case for themselves when they know they will not get the client the best outcome? If you are a little bit cynical, it is because they think -often incorrectly – they will get a larger attorneys’ fee by keeping the case for themselves. But an inexperienced lawyer will rarely maximize the value of the case and start making mistakes from the beginning. Trying to overcompensate, these are often the same lawyers that go off the deep end with their demand letters.

Believe me, I know this speech is self-serving because the implicit – now explicit – message is that I’m telling lawyers that don’t regularly handle serious and complex personal injury cases to refer their cases to us. But it really is the best thing for both the referring lawyer and the client. I’ve included some sample personal injury demand letters. I put them up for two reasons. Experience personal injury lawyers, dedicated to their craft, like reading samples from other lawyers. And, yes, these samples are also for inexperienced lawyers who are out of the depth (and pro se plaintiffs) who are not going to listen to me and are going to handle the case themselves. Get a sample demand letter – with links to more – here.

Getting Help with Your Case

Our lawyers handle serious injury and wrongful death personal injury cases.  Many of our cases come from lawyers who are looking for co-counsel with cases where they need to partner with someone has the experience and the resources to get the most money possible out of the case.  Whether you are a victim or a referring lawyer, call me to discuss your claim.  You can reach me at 800-553-8082 or you can provide your information to me online.

  • Ron,
    Really great post. You consistently post on topics that I really don’t read much about elsewhere.

    This is a topic that I have wrestled with a good bit over the past couple of years. With me I really will try any case (so long as I have the urging of my client and blessing of my firm) and, as a result, have tried a fair number of cases in my brief career.

    But demand letters still leave me wondering a lot. The big question I ponder is “am I wasting my time?” To answer that question I am always picking the brains of my defense lawyer friends who are on the other other end of similar letters reading them with the insurance company. I think you are dead on that the sweet spot is somewhere between a tome and the one line “we will take X in settlement.” From my perspective I think it is critical to outline the strengths of your case and the evidentiary issues with the defendants case while at the same time conceding some weak aspects of your own case.

    Additionally, I know the insurance companies have ridiculous resources for determining the value of a case. They do this through various archives. I have begun my own version of this to level the playing field (a bit). Through Lexis’ verdict search, I scour the verdicts throughout my state (recognizing the verdicts in Philadelphia are not equivalent to what can be expected in my side of the state). I do as many different kinds of key word searches as I can to find all the verdicts as close to on point to my case as possible. I then work with my clients to temper their expectations. And I also use these cases to support my demand with the defense. This helps me have a foundation for my argument for why a case should settle at a given figure.

    Anyway…just some additional thoughts from a fellow, albeit less experienced, trial lawyer. Thanks so much for the sample letters.

  • Ron,
    As a corollary to this post (if you have not written about it already) I think a great post would be a discussion of pre-suit tactics for dealing with insurance companies to either A. improve the chances of early settlement or B. increase the reserve placed on the case. I know I’d be interested to read about that.

  • Ron Miller

    Thanks! Brandan offers some additional thoughts on demand letters in a recent post:

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