10 Strategies for Writing a Settlement Demand Letter
Massachusetts uses a no-fault insurance system. This means that your claim for damages after a car accident will probably begin with your own insurance company—regardless of who caused the accident.
If your medical expenses exceed a certain legal threshold, you can pursue a claim against the driver who caused the accident. Massachusetts requires all vehicle owners to carry liability insurance; your claim against the at-fault driver will likely begin with the driver’s insurance company.
When you deal with a claims adjuster for the insurance company, you will probably need to write a settlement demand letter. This letter outlines your claim and provides information that might not appear in your medical records.
Here are ten strategies for writing a settlement demand letter:
1. Stay Focused
Sending a settlement demand letter that rambles about facts that are irrelevant to your claim will waste the claims adjuster’s time. It could put the claims adjuster in the wrong mood to negotiate a settlement.
An unfocused letter also runs a risk of inadvertent admissions. If you write a long, detailed letter, you could write something that the claims adjuster can use against you.
Remain focused on the issues relevant to the claim, including:
- The extent of your injuries
- Treatment, therapy, and medication you received
- Plan for future treatment, therapy, and medication
- Lost income
Discussing anything outside of these issues could result in a letter that does more harm than good.
2. Do Not Threaten
Threats create an adversarial relationship. By threatening, you remove the claims adjuster’s incentive to work with you. If the claims adjuster simply cannot meet your demand, they might just set your case aside and wait for you to follow through on your threat.
Instead of issuing threats, use persuasion. Push the claims adjuster to see things your way so you can work out an fair settlement.
3. Make Your Case Stand Out
Most of the information used by the claims adjuster will come from your medical records. The claims adjuster does not need you to explain anything that may appear in your records.
Instead, focus on the facts that do not appear in your records. For example, you might sxplain how your eye injuries might cause you to change jobs because you cannot see well enough to continue working as a machinist. Talk about the pain you experience every time you drive. Discuss your doctor’s prognosis that you will have arthritis in your injured hip for the rest of your life.
Raising facts that relate to the medical records helps in two respects:
Most of the adjuster’s claim files belong to nameless, faceless people. If you highlight a few unique facts, the claim adjuster can associate your case with a real person.
Pain and Suffering
You can claim damages for pain and suffering if the medical expenses exceed $2,000 or the injuries include:
- Loss of a body member
- Permanent and serious disfigurement
- Loss of sight or hearing
By highlighting a few facts about the ways that your injuries affected the quality of your life, you provide a basis from which to claim pain and suffering damages in eligible cases.
4. Understand Policy Limits Before Writing
The insurer does not have unlimited liability. Instead, the insurer only has liability up to the policy limits. Before you start writing, understand the policy limits that apply in your case and how these policy limits work.
Under Massachusetts law, each driver must buy at least $8,000 in personal injury protection (PIP). An insurer pays medical expenses and lost income from the PIP coverage, but an insurer will not pay for any damages above the policy limit.
All car owners in Massachusetts must also buy bodily injury liability insurance that covers at least $20,000 per injured person or $40,000 per accident. The at-fault driver must cover amounts over the policy limits.
5. Support Your Claim
Your proof of loss will have more value than your settlement demand letter. The insurer will not pay any undocumented damages. Thus, you should make sure you have supporting documentation for every amount you discuss in your settlement demand letter.
6. Include All of Your Damages
At the same time, you should not exclude any damages that you have suffered. If you have documentation for the damages, include them.
As you and your lawyer negotiate with the insurer, you may drop some of your damages. But you should include them initially to give yourself some negotiating space.
7. Do Not Make a Specific Demand
The settlement demand letter represents the first step in the settlement process. The settlement demand letter provides notice of your claim and sets the table for negotiating a settlement or litigating in court.
But you should not take the word “demand” too literally. Instead of “demanding” payment, the letter will:
- Explain the legal basis for your claim
- Document the value of your claim
The letter will not specify the exact amount required to settle the case. The letter will express a willingness to negotiate, leading the claims adjuster to make the first offer.
8. Do Not Offer a Recorded Statement
A recorded statement is a phone call with a claims adjuster to discuss the accident and your injuries. As the name suggests, the adjuster records the call.
These calls can pose a significant risk to your injury claim. The demand letter and medical records should provide enough information for the claims adjuster to be able to settle the claim.
A recorded statement gives an opportunity to say something that the claims adjuster will use against you. Even seemingly simple answers can get twisted in a recorded statement, so it’s best to decline the opportunity to participate.
9. Remain Patient
After you send your letter, you will wait for a decision on your claim. Pestering the claims adjuster will not produce a quicker response. The adjuster has many claims and will take up your claim reasonably promptly in accordance with Massachusetts law.
10. Do Not Play at Being a Lawyer
If you choose to write a demand letter without hiring a lawyer, you should not try to write a “lawyerly” letter. Instead, write the letter from your point of view as the claimant. Focus on the facts and leave the law to the lawyers.
Consider Hiring a Lawyer to Assist with Your Demand Letter
Rather than writing a demand letter directly, consider hiring a lawyer to write the letter on your behalf. Your lawyer will likely have a library of examples to draw from. This can ensure that your letter hits all of the important issues without getting off track. It will also help you to avoid damaging admissions that could derail your claim.