Good writing is important, but it is not sufficient. You will not be able to create a powerful demand package unless you have first done the work necessary to obtain the information needed to support the demand letter.
DEMAND PACKAGE DEFINED
A “demand package” consists of a demand letter and its exhibits. A “demand letter,” at least in the context of a personal injury claim, is a letter that states the legal and factual basis for a personal injury claim, and includes a demand for compensation. There are no magic words that need to be included in a demand letter; however, there is definitely an art to writing a powerful demand letter.
KNOW YOUR DAMAGES
In a personal injury case, “damages” are the harms suffered by the Plaintiff that were caused by the Defendant’s negligent conduct. There are two types of damages that should be addressed in your demand letter, “special damages” and “general damages.” Special damages are quantifiable monetary losses such as medical bills, cost to repair damaged property, and lost earnings. General damages include those harms the Plaintiff has suffered that are not as easy to quantify, such as disfigurement, pain, and suffering.
General damages are the most under-appreciated aspect of personal injury claims. (Famed trial consultant, David Ball, wrote an excellent book on the subject that is currently in its third edition. David Ball on Damages 3. I consider it mandatory reading for any trial attorney.) You cannot assume that your audience, whether it is an insurance adjuster or an empaneled member of the jury, will just automatically understand or appreciate the scope of the Plaintiff’s suffering in your case. In fact, it would be safe to assume the opposite. Therefore, you must provide specific details, in narrative form when possible, that transform your damages claim within the mind of your audience from vague clinical concepts to nearly-tangible dramatic adversity. This cannot be accomplished by eloquent prose alone–it requires substantive details.
Those substantive details that have the power to move your audience are rarely self-evident. They must be unearthed, mined even. The lawyer cannot tell the Plaintiff’s story unless and until the lawyer discovers the Plaintiff’s story. The best tool for discovering the powerful case-altering details is active listening. Clinical-sounding conclusory statements such as “Plaintiff rated her pain, on a scale of 1-10, as an 8” do not persuade anyone. Even worse, those kinds of conclusory statements tend to invite skepticism. Instead the lawyer needs to actively listen to his or her client so the lawyer can paint a vivid picture, as shown in the following example:
Penny had two months remaining in her junior year of high school when the collision occurred. She was enrolled in honors and AP classes, and had always been an excellent student. Penny’s physical injuries (described above) prevented her from going back to school for a month. When she finally did return, the effects of the concussion she suffered in the collision became even more apparent.
Social situations suddenly made Penny anxious. In her math class, Penny raised her hand to answer a question, but when the teacher called on her, Penny began sobbing uncontrollably. Unable to compose herself, she ran out of class. Other times Penny would experience panic symptoms without any identifiable trigger. She struggled to concentrate, to read, and to keep up with her schoolwork. When she would speak, word-finding became an embarrassing challenge. Penny could not enjoy previously enjoyable activities like singing with her acapella group. To her doctor, she reported suicidal ideation.
Dr. Hamilton, Penny’s neurologist, ordered restrictions on Penny’s schoolwork, which helped her to pass her classes. But Penny was historically an A / B student taking Honors and AP classes — after the collision, she ended up with C’s and D’s for the semester. . . .
The details from the sample text above are the kind of details that should be included in a demand letter. It is hard work to discover and articulate these kinds of details, but they are a key to persuasive power.
Distinguished from general damages, special damages are cold and mathematical. They are value drivers in personal injury cases, so they should be clearly identified in the demand letter. When you write a demand letter, you should make it easy for the insurance adjuster to understand and independently verify your special damages calculations. The following are common types of special damages that are included in demand letters:
- Current Medical Bills
- Future Medical Bills
- Current Lost Earnings
- Future Lost Earnings
- Cost of Home Modifications to Enhance Access for Disabled
Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care. It is an essential element of most personal injury cases; therefore the demand should generally address the issue. In some cases, the Defendant (or the Defendant’s insurance company) may admit negligence. For example, in rear-end motor vehicle collision cases there is usually no dispute as to negligence. However, if negligence is likely to be disputed, the demand letter should articulate a convincing case as to how the Defendant was negligent. This may require expert analysis.
For example, suppose that in your case the Defendant’s semi-tractor-trailer truck was involved in a collision that was not the Defendant’s fault. Rather, the collision was the fault of an unknown hit and run driver. But in the aftermath of the collision, the load of concrete piping that the Defendant was hauling rolled off of his trailer, and crushed the Plaintiff’s vehicle along with its occupants. Your theory of liability may be that the Defendant was negligent in the manner in which he secured the cargo he was hauling.That may be a good theory of liability, but it will need to be supported by expert opinion. Under this scenario, the demand letter should include a report from an expert who would be qualified to testify as an expert witness in court as to whether the Defendant secured his load in a negligent manner. Obtaining such a report would be a significant project, requiring considerable time and expense; however, sending a demand letter without it would be a waste.
Once we have gathered the information described above, we are ready to write the demand letter, which you can learn more about here.
The philosophies, strategies, and tactics I’ve outlined above are the principles that guide our actions at Cluff Injury Lawyers. I’ve outlined them pedagogically to help anyone who wants to better understand these principles or improve their skills in utilizing them.
Author: Brigham Cluff