A demand letter is almost always the first step you take after determining your legal claim. In order to have an effective demand letter, there are some specific strategies and requirements it must contain.
A demand letter is a document that contains the legal complaint. In other words, it includes statements of what the defendant legally did wrong, and the amount of money the plaintiff is asking for. You can ask for money or personal property from the other party. A demand letter is essentially a letter that demands personal property or money from the other party and states that the plaintiff intends to sue if defendant does not give them what they are asking for. If defendant responds and returns the money or property, then the parties will not need to go to small claims court.
A demand letter is most common in small claims cases. A small claims case is one where the plaintiff is not seeking a substantially high amount from the other party. For example, in California, a small claims case is for complaints that deal with $10,000 or less in damages.
Many states, including California and Nevada, require that a demand letter be sent to the other party (defendant) before bringing a small claims lawsuit to court. The court will ask for confirmation receipts before starting the lawsuit. Remember to bring a copy of your demand letter to court. Hiring an experienced attorney can help you organize & build your case.
Reasons for sending a demand letter:
- Small claims court
- If plaintiff decides to proceed with any lawsuit without an attorney
How to Send a Demand Letter
There is no specific requirement as to how the demand letter should be sent. However, many states such as California and Nevada suggest with registered mail or via email.
- Mail: If sent by mail, it should be registered and have a tracking number to prevent any future problems of defendants claiming they did not receive it. Signature delivery is also recommended.
- An undelivered message (whether via mail or email) should make the plaintiff look for other alternatives to send the demand letter.
A demand letter should be sent to a home address rather than a place of business, to prevent any third parties from getting hold of it and the demand letter getting lost.
What to Include in a Demand Letter
- Your name, address, and contact information (email and phone number)
- The most important step is the summary that details exactly what happened and what legal claims plaintiff has. This paragraph should be stated right away. This should be summarized in a couple sentences. It should tsate the damage and what plaintiff has suffered as a result of defendant’s actions.
- Refrain from making any physical threats, speaking unprofessionally, or using any inappropriate language.
- Be as direct and to the point as possible so the defendant can clearly understand what they did wrong and what they should return
- Include as many dates as possible to draw out the story
- If seeking monetary damages, it should state a certain dollar amount and how that amount was determined
- Your demand should also cite specific laws that have been broken (city or state laws)
- When you want the defendant to respond to your demand letter (it is advised to give defendant about 2 weeks)
- State the legal consequences as to what happens if defendant does not respond. This includes taking the lawsuit to court.
- Keep the letter professional and refer to them as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” And sign the letter with “sincerely”
- Keep in mind that what you say a demand letter could also be used against you in court if you do end up going to small claims court
What Happens After You Send the Demand Letter
- Defendant could respond with another letter denying any allegations. If this happens, then both parties must go to small claims court.
- Defendant could also respond by asserting some type of counterclaim where they are stating that plaintiff is the one that actually violated laws instead of them, and defendant is entitled to money damages instead.
- Defendant could respond admitting liability and how they are to pay back plaintiff. Defendant could also mention any settlement amounts to prevent going to court.