In a given year, an insurance adjuster may receive hundreds or even thousands of demand letters from lawyers with detailed sob stories of injury and suffering. Still, when writing a demand letter, it is important to remember that adjusters are first and foremost, people. They are affected by the same things as every other human being. So make your narrative as interesting as possible, but strive for brevity. Describe, but do not belabor, the crucial factors that may affect the value of the case, particularly if they are not apparent from a reading of the medical or other records that are attached.
It is extremely important that you do not go overboard in an attempt to personalize your client’s plight. For example, consider a plaintiff who sustained soft-tissue injuries in a collision with a tractor-trailer. It is probably a waste of time to devote paragraphs to describing the anguish your client’s back sprain caused when they attempted to do the laundry, garden, or walk the dog. On the other hand, using the same example, you will probably want to tell the adjuster how your client felt after the collision ripped the roof off of the vehicle, and she looked down to find the next seat passenger’s decapitated head in her lap. Even though both of these examples involve a client who suffered the same soft-tissue injury, it is clear that the client in the second example has much more compelling non-economic damages. Another real-life is example is a case we handled where a passenger was not injured very seriously, but had to watch his best friend die in the seat next to him due to injuries sustained in the crash. These are all things that need to make it into your demand letter.
Keeping in mind that the scope of your narrative should match the seriousness of the case, be sure to tell the story of the case in a light most favorable to your client. If you can, describe the defendant as a company with an evil motive or a person who was grossly negligent. Take care to only do this in the rare case where it is true and can be supported by specific reference to the facts. If you try to cast a defendant in this light in a case where it is unwarranted, you will have instantly damaged your credibility with the adjuster, perhaps permanently.
Where it is supported by the facts of the case, include a vivid description of your client’s injuries, physical pain, anguish, and dashed hopes. Describe not only what has been lost, but what your client has been forced to accept in its place. Describe the hardworking laborer, proud of his ability to support his family and send his children to college, giving them opportunities that he never had. Now, due to the defendant’s defective product, he has suffered a serious back injury. Include a laser copy of your client’s CT scan showing his herniated disc. Describe his frustration at not being able to work because of the pain he experiences. Describe the gnawing fear that the disc will move further and sever his spinal cord, rendering him a paraplegic.
Describe his feelings of hopelessness and depression because his family has been required to accept charity for the first time and his children have dropped out of school. His daughter had to give up her dream of becoming a registered nurse and take employment as a cleaning woman. Be sensitive and compassionate. Above all, tell the story of what has happened to this family because of the fault of the defendant. At the end of your settlement brochure, include projections of lost wages and lost earning capacity, together with totals of medical expenses. Now make your demand for settlement, keeping it reasonable, but leaving room for negotiation.
At the outset, immediately after your initial intake interview with the client, you sent a retention letter to the defendant. In all likelihood, you were contacted by a representative (claims adjuster) of the defendant’s insurance company soon after. This was probably by telephone with a follow-up letter. It is important, mandatory and imperative that you develop an amicable and trusting relationship with the claims adjuster. If the adjuster does not like you and trust you, it will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate an adequate settlement. Your goal is to always leave room to make the adjuster look good by settling with you at your number.
Do not – and this is a challenge for a lot of lawyers – brag or make outlandish claims. Do not make unreasonable demands. In fact, do not make any demand until the case is fully investigated and prepared. But always keep in mind that adjusters are people too. You can expect the, to notice if you don’t give a very serious case the attention to detail that it deserves, or if you have a tendency to overreach on less serious cases.
Ron Miller, the writer of this post, is personal injury lawyer in Baltimore, Maryland who handles only accident, product liability and medical malpractice claims. His firm handles only serious personal injury claims.
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