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Writing a Demand Letter That Gets Results
by Ralph Warner
Copyright © 1994 Nolo Press
In the 16 years Nolo has published Everybody's Guide to Small Claims
readers have sent in hundreds of small claims success stories. One
particularly delighted us: Many self-proclaimed winners never filed a
claims case in the first place.
These readers followed Nolo's advice that before going to court it's
write the other party a clear, concise letter demanding payment. As a
many readers received all or most of what they asked for.
That a simple letter can be so effective may seem almost too good to be
especially if you have unsuccessfully argued with your adversary in
over the phone. But a letter works in as many as one-third of all cases,
because in the legal context the written word is far more powerful than
To see why, think about the times you have found yourself embroiled in
consumer dispute. After angry words were exchanged--maybe even including
threat of a lawsuit--what happened next? Chances are, nothing. For all
reasons, from a death in the family to the chance to take a vacation, to
not having enough time, you didn't pursue the claim.
People expect that. But things change if you write a letter, laying out
reasons why the other party owes you money and stating that if you fail
satisfaction, you plan to go to small claims court pronto. Now, instead
just another cranky face on the other side of the counter or a voice on
phone, you and your dispute take on a sobering realness.
For the first time, the other party must confront the likelihood that
simply go away, but plan to have your day in court. And they must face
that they will have to expend time and energy to publicly defend their
If your position has at least some merit, the chances that the other
be willing to pay at least a portion of what you ask just went way up.
Writing the Letter
Making a demand for payment before filing suit is recommended by most
claims courts and required by a few. Here are some pointers to keep in
- In your letter, review the history of the dispute. At first
this may seem a bit odd; after all, your opponent knows the story. But
that if you end up in court, the letter will be read by a judge who
the facts of your dispute.
- Be polite. You catch more flies with honey than by hitting them
over the head
with a mallet. Absolutely avoid personally attacking your adversary
(even one who
deserves it). The more annoying you are, the more you invite the other
respond in a similarly angry vein. You want the other person to instead
business-like analysis: what are my risks of losing, how much time will
take, do I want the dispute to be made public? Hopefully, the other
decide it makes sense to compromise.
- Use a typewriter or computer and keep a copy.
- Say exactly what you want. Ask for a specific amount of money to be
paid by a
set date, or for the other person to do something, such as fix a
- Conclude by stating that you will file in small claims court if
is not met.
Side Bar--Sample Letter
Tucker's Fix-It-Quick Garage
9938 Main St.
Chicago, IL 61390
Dear Mr. Tucker,
On May 21, 19xx, I took my car to your garage for servicing. Shortly
picking it up the next day, the engine caught fire because of your
properly tighten the fuel line to the fuel injector. Fortunately, I was
douse the fire without injury.
As a direct result of the fire, I paid the ABC garage $681 for necessary
work. I enclose a copy of their invoice.
In addition, as a direct result of the fire, I was without the use of my
three days and had to rent a car to get to work. I enclose an invoice
rental cost of $145.
In a recent phone conversation you claimed that the fire wasn't the
your negligence and would have happened anyway. And even if it was your
should have brought my car back to your garage so you could have fixed
it at a
As to the first issue, Peter Klein of the ABC Garage is prepared to
court that the fire occurred because the fuel line was not properly
the fuel injector.
Second, I had no obligation to return the car to you for further repair.
the damage you caused repaired at a commercially reasonable price and am
to prove this with several higher estimates by other garages.
Please send me a check or money order for $826 on or before July 15. If
receive payment by that date, I'll promptly file this case in small
You may reach me during the day at 555-2857 or in the evenings until 10
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