Crafting an auto accident demand letter – Part I

Don’t make the mistake of thinking it makes any sense to play Hide the Ball.

Sharing information with the insurance company almost always helps your case.

Preparing your demand letter is a process that begins the first time you learn the facts of a case. Let’s talk specifically about what goes into a good demand letter.

Elements of good car accident Demand Letter:

  1. Accident Overview
  2. Theory of Liability + Proof of Liability
  3. Description of Damages + Proof of Damages
  4. Demand

This post discusses the first element: accident overview.

But first, a caveat: Don’t use this as your opportunity to play a little game of Hide the Ball.

If you walk away from this conversation (or whatever you want to call this) having learned only one thing, let it be this: Sharing information with the insurance company almost always helps your case.

Some bizarre plaintiffs’ lawyers decide that their strategy will be to treat the insurance claims process like a game of poker: They hold their hand close to their vest, put on a poker face, and tell nothing.

Perhaps this made sense back in the day when the ultimate goal was to get to trial (was this ever the goal back in the day?).

Maybe. But who knows?

Those people don’t practice law anymore.

Or, maybe this was a sound approach before litigation discovery was invented.

Or perhaps it was a viable tactic before the advent of sophisticated technology like universal claims databases and the Interwebs.  Maybe.

But what is clear is that today, this approach makes no sense.  Zero.  Less than zero.

It makes even less sense when you stop and realize that the real goal in most auto accident cases is usually settlement: a quick, clean, easy, honest, settlement.  If this is in fact the goal, it is most easily accomplished by giving the insurance company everything it needs (or thinks it needs) to evaluate the claim.

When you hide information, you d – r – a – g –  out your claim.

Moving on to your the writing of your demand letter. Do yourself a favor—save the drama and antics (dramantics) for the courtroom.

Your settlement demand is obviously not admissible, so no jury will ever see it.

What we should be dealing with here is a straightforward, professional document. One that lays out, as simply as possible, the facts of the accident, highlights the strengths of your plaintiff’s case and personal history, acknowledges –to the extent applicable–her weaknesses, sets out her medical claims and past and (if applicable) expected future treatment and wraps it all up by plainly stating how much it will take to make this go away today.

It probably goes without saying that the more money you’re asking for, the longer more support your letter should provide – and the greater the volume of accompanying documents.

1. Accident overview

Above all, begin by remembering who you are talking to. First rule of writing: consider your audience.

Whether you send your demand letter to the adjuster or an attorney — whether you send it before or after you file suit, your letter will ultimately be redirected to an insurance attorney.

In other words, your final recipient is (a) a lawyer (b) who deals with car wreck, after car wreck… after car wreck.

In laying out the accident, do not feel compelled to launch into painstaking detail that the car was blue, well, an off-blue really, and it had been given to the plaintiff on his 32nd birthday, by his wife – well his wife at the time, now his ex-wife – and due to the accident caused by your insured hurtling into him at an extremely high rate of speed the defendant’s car caused a scratch – a deep one – on the right side, in the front, right by the right front fender, and the scratch was not only deep but long, about the length of the distance from your fingertips to your elbow (assuming you are shorter than 5’2” but no shorter than 4’11”) but if you happen to be taller than 5’2” then….

Look. It was a car accident.

Unless either party was driving the batmobile at the time of the collision, there are only so many possible ways the accident could have occurred.

Either your client was rear-ended, caught between two cars, domino-style, or your client was hit from some other direction.  Two options: either your client was stopped or moving at the time.  The point here is describe the accident briefly. Explain who was at fault and why. Attach a police report and move on.

–         Plaintiff’s rate of speed
–         Defendant’s Mph.
–         Citations issued, and to the extent known, how they were resolved.

On that last point, remember that citations generally are not admissible evidence.  You’ll recall that the only time these are admissible as proof in Georgia is when the defendant pled guilty. 

In other words, if the defendant pled nolo contendere, then it is not admissible.

If he pled Not Guilty, the case went to trial, and he was either convicted or acquitted … well then, nope. Sorry. Still not admissible.

Ah!! But if he just plain ol’ didn’t show up for trial (and had notice ), this is considered a guilty plea: admissible.

You will recall from first year Torts that a car accident can be just that: An accident.  That being the case, you must identify exactly why you allege the defendant should be the one made to pay for it.

The mere fact that the defendant was driving is not enough.

You do not need to include citations to universally known rules of the road (a la, “…in the city of Atlanta, running a red light is in direct contravention of Municipal Ordinance —-“).

No. To the contrary, spare the adjuster any legal citations to municipal code – this is not a law review audition.

Instead, to the extent you are alleging that a commonly known rule of the road was violated, it suffices to say “your client ran a red light…”  Everyone get what that means.

Give your overview, then move on.


Watch video How to write a great demand letter.