Do you need to make a legal demand of someone? Give me 5 minutes and I am going to show you how to do it right.
What is a Demand Letter?
A demand letter is a formal demand that someone or some thing do or stop doing something. In theory, a demand letter is easy to do – you could just scribble something on a napkin and hand it to the person. But a well-done demand letter requires thought and professionalism.
What are the Technicalities?
First, the technical issues. Often a written demand is a condition precedent to legal action. You may need to prove, sometimes years later, when the letter was sent and to whom. So, at the top of your letter you put the date, then HOW the letter was sent (by U.S. mail, email, hand-delivery).
If you send a letter by mail there is a rebuttable presumption that the recipient received it. This was decided by the US Supreme Court over a hundred years ago. But why rely on a rebuttable presumption? Instead you should ALWAYS send either by mail with proof of receipt or, even easier, by email or facsimile. That way, if the recipient denies receiving the letter – you have proof.
Next, always think that your letter will some day be put on a big overhead projector and everyone in the Courtroom will be looking at it. Stay professional and factual.
As to substance, the format of a demand letter is always the same:
- Make your demand right away
- Tell the recipient the legal basis your demand
- Reiterate your demand with a time limitation for the recipient’s action
That’s the basics.
But the basics are easy, the most important thing is to think about your evil enemy that you are writing to. Your goal is to get the recipient to do something. Sometimes you want threaten, but sometimes you want to cajole or even emphathize. Your letter needs to be tailored to who your recipient is.
I will give you two examples so you can see how different things can be. The first is a cease and desist letter that I wrote for bankruptcy clients who are still being contacted by collections prior to filing. This letter is a “notice” type letter and a condition precedent. It’s also being written to a debt collector which is a business.
So, the point here is to be clear and concise – no need for too much. We say pointblank the purpose of the letter right in the first sentence “stop all contact with me” in the second paragraph we tell them how they contacted us, the third paragraph is the legal basis of the demand and the last is the demand and consequence of failure to cease contact. This is not a nice letter and it doesn’t have to be.
Now, if you are writing a letter to your neighbor to cease trespassing on your property, you’d want to the tone to be different, more informal and more reasonable. A softer tone.
Going back to our cease and desist letter briefly, it’s a good example because it gives you the elements of a good demand letter:
Start with what you want – stop contacting me.
Next, state the basis for what you want – Federal Law
And last, again make your demand and specify the time limitation for doing so – stop calling right away.
So, now let’s look at a personal injury demand and see how different it is while maintaining that same framework. This is a letter to a Geico adjuster. The adjuster is just doing a job and hasn’t done anything wrong. The purpose of the tone in a BI demand letter is to convey that we know our case in detail and know what it’s worth while being cordial. Being a jerk to an adjuster almost never is a good thing.
This demand letter is eleven pages and I’ll explain why. Insurance adjusters nowadays are tied to computer programs as far as settling cases. They input treatment codes and diagnosis codes and the computer gives them a settlement range.
My job in our letter is not just to demand money but to help the adjuster get the computer to give us the money. So, you are going to see that throughout the letter we break out all the codes that the adjuster will have to input. We do their job for them – to make it easier for Geico to pay us a lot of money.
When we started helping the adjusters like this, our average settlement values went up 10-20%. So you can see that it’s not always about harsh demand language but by knowing your audience sometimes you can help them help you.
But the basics are the same – We start on the first page saying what we want. We want you Geico to pay your policy limits to us. On page 2 we talk about liability which is the legal basis for recovery and list and add up all bills. On page 3 we tell Geico our client’s future medical needs followed by all ICD and CPT codes for ALL treatment. Then we give a synopsis of injuries on page 4 and then on pages 5-9 we break out each injury by each body part. Why? Because that is how the adjuster’s software does it – we have 100% tailored our demand letter to how the Geico computer system looks at a case.
Finally, we include “Duties Under Duress” on page 10 because we know that Geico has an extra screen for that and then we conclude with our demand for tender of the policy limits which must occur within 30 days.
So, between this demand letter and the non-contact letter you can see the difference that knowing your recipient. Very different letters.
And finally, I will leave you with the Budweiser “demand paige” they sent to a small brewery who made a beer which they called the “Dilly Dilly” which Bud was using in its commercials at the time. He did forget to make a timed demand but otherwise – spot on. Enjoy.