You are ready to sue someone, but you aren't sure what to do first. Even if you have an attorney, writing a demand letter is a great first step.
What Is a Demand Letter?
A demand letter is written at the beginning of the process of bringing a case to court. It presents your case as the plaintiff (the one who has been harmed) and intends to file a lawsuit against the defendant. Plaintiffs write demand letters to state the harm that has been caused by the defendant, what relief the defendant wants, and that they intend to take the case to court.
Although an attorney often writes the demand letter, you can also do it yourself in several cases:
- If you want to sue someone in small claims court
- If you have a fairly simple legal issue and you want to go through the process yourself, without an attorney
- If you want to clarify your thoughts on what happened and what you want
- If you want to save some time (and money) by drafting the letter yourself and letting your attorney review and edit it
Tips for Writing a Demand Letter
Consider the Demand Letter Before Starting a Lawsuit
One way to avoid a costly and time-consuming lawsuit is to present a demand letter to the other party, as a way to start a discussion.
You might want to consider mediation with a trained mediator to help you work out the issue. The demand letter can help both parties focus on the main issue.
Summarize at the Beginning
This step is similar to an executive summary of a business plan. In a sentence or two, tell the main point you want to make about the damage done, then give your demand for payment or other damages.
Writing the summary helps you to condense your argument to the basics, and it lets your reader know immediately what the letter is all about.
Be Aware of Your Reader
Write for the person who will be reading your demand letter. Attorneys tend to use "legalese," which can confuse people and make them anxious. If your reader is a business person, you can use common business terms. Use your common sense here and write to make yourself clear.
Don't be abusive, or call the other party names. Be direct and calm, leaving your personal feelings out of the descriptions. "Take the high road" when putting down the details of your case. Call the defendant "the defendant" or "Mr.[last name]." If you are angry, you can say that, but being angry won't get you anywhere. Being clear, direct and professional will help your case.
Be Complete and Detailed
Tell the story of what happened, from the beginning. Include details of dates, numbers, amounts of money. A small claims court judge reading your demand letter is more likely to award you money if you can include information about letters you sent and when invoices were sent and how (email or snail mail, for example). If you hired someone to do work and they haven't done it, you will need to show that the work wasn't done.
Include in the letter:
- Your full name and address
- The description of the unfair or deceptive act or practice, with dates and details, including any law you believe has been broken
- The injury you suffered, in measurable terms, including loss of money, damage to something you own, or being the victim of an unfair practice
- Your demand for relief, including the money you want
- When and how the other party must respond
When you come to the part of the demand letter when you are stating your demands, make them as reasonable as you can. Sometimes it's difficult to quantify the damages you want; "pain and suffering," for example, is usually determined by a jury. Types of damages include:
- Compensatory damages, including actual damages that can be determined and general damages that can't be determined exactly, like pain and suffering, and loss of future income
- Punitive damages, for intentional harm done
Be Honest and Truthful
Just the facts, please. If you can't prove it, don't put it in the letter.
Make Sure The Letter is Received
If you are working with an attorney, they will take care of sending the demand letter. If you are sending it yourself before the lawsuit begins, you may want to get a confirmation of receipt from the post office. You can also pay the court to deliver the letter in person, requiring the person to sign that it was received.
If you want to take your case to small claims court, you can do that if your claim is less than the maximum for your state.
What Is the Response to a Demand Letter?
Often the other party will send back a denial letter stating why you are wrong and they are right. Don't take it personally. Use the details in that letter, with your attorney, to work out how you will respond to the denials in court.
In some cases, you might receive a counter-claim, in which the other party accuses you of also doing something wrong. For example, the other party may say you were also partly at fault because of your actions.
if you receive a demand letter (also called a cease and desist letter) stating that you have infringed on someone's trademark rights, contact your attorney or see this article from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for information.