Maximize Your Compensation Without Going to Trial
Most accident victims want maximum compensation as soon as possible. One of the best ways to achieve this is to send a strong settlement demand prior to beginning litigation.
Obtaining compensation without litigation provides accident victims with a recovery sooner and also increases their recovery by avoiding the expenses of litigation, which can be significant. While their personal injury attorney must be ready to file a lawsuit and take the case to trial, it is usually better for the client to attempt to settle before proceeding to court.
What Is a Settlement Demand Letter?
In nearly all cases, the only way to obtain a settlement without filing a lawsuit is to make a settlement demand. This is because, prior to filing a lawsuit, a demand letter is the victim’s best opportunity to go on the record and explain the accident, their injuries, and the effect of those injuries on their life, including their economic and non-economic damages.
Putting these things in a well-organized and persuasive letter allows a plaintiff’s attorney to be sure that the defendant, his or her insurance company, and their defense lawyers hear directly about the plaintiff’s case. However, a poorly drafted settlement demand can damage a case, which is why this process should be handled by an experienced lawyer.
For example, a settlement demand that demands too little can result in an inadequate offer, while one that makes an unreasonably high demand may lead the defendant to think that the plaintiff is unreasonable, which may lead to litigation. Thus, a demand letter must be written with care and only sent when a plaintiff has the information he needs to value his case.
There are several elements of a good demand letter:
- The victim must clearly explain why the responsible party is at fault. This includes attaching police reports, photographs, and any other evidence from the accident that proves that the responsible party was negligent. It is vital that the injured victim and his or her attorney understand not only what happened, but the law that governs the accident. The settlement demand must highlight all favorable facts and law and attempt to deal with any unfavorable facts and law.
- The demand must include documentation of all injuries and damages. This includes itemized billing statements and a complete set of medical records for all hospitals, doctors and other medical providers. If a bill or record is not included in the demand, any offer will likely not be maximized. A victim must also explain and calculate any missed time from work or other economic losses. They may want to include tax returns, signed statements by employers, and any other evidence documenting any time missed. Finally, any other out-of-pocket expense – car repairs, damaged personal property, taxi costs, decrease in value of damaged property – must be listed, explained and, where possible, documented.
- It may be beneficial to withhold certain information in the demand. It can often be helpful to withhold certain information from the initial demand in order to shield it from disclosure or to allow the responsible party (or their insurance company) to go on the record without the benefit of that information. Sometimes, the victim’s attorney can catch the negligent party making a false statement or taking an unreasonable position, which can help in settlement discussions. Facebook posts and witness statements, in particular, may be worth withholding in order to defeat an initial denial of a claim.
- The victim/plaintiff should be involved in drafting the demand. In every case, it was the victim who was involved in the accident and actually suffered the injuries, so their input is crucial to providing a comprehensive claim and obtaining the highest settlement possible. While a legal professional should draft the demand, the victim should be consulted.
- Timing is crucial when submitting a demand. A plaintiff who sends a settlement demand without being asked for one, or before the parties are in a position to understand the case and their respective positions, may appear too eager to settle. Defendants and insurers will then respond with low offers, thinking the plaintiff is desperate to settle.