Launching a lawsuit is a costly and time-consuming way of resolving disputes. For smaller matters, and even large ones, resolution can sometimes be achieved simply by submitting a demand letter, also known as a notice of intent to sue.
Why Write a Notice of Intent to Sue?
Demand letters can be useful in all kinds of disputes, from getting compensated for bad checks backed by non-sufficient funds to asking for damages when things go badly in business. Perhaps caterers failed to provide and serve the meal they were contracted for at an expensive business luncheon. Guests may demand refunds, and suing the caterer for damages could recover those losses.
Writing the letter informs the other party that legal action will be taken if a resolution is not reached. It explains why damages are sought and what the accepted resolutions are. If legal action is required after all, having sent a notice of intent to sue can go a long way in showing the court that you acted in good faith and sought a reasonable solution. Some courts or contracts may even require this step before a lawsuit can happen.
It’s important to realize that the contents your demand letter can be used against you in legal proceedings. If you are not 100 percent confident in what to say or how to say it, engage a lawyer to have it done correctly. Don’t resort to form demand letters when you’re unsure. Instead, get a lawyer specializing in demand letters, which can cost as little as $250.
Heading a Demand Letter
Use traditional business letter format for demand letters. Always ensure they’re typed and printed clearly.
Open the letter like this:
December 29, 2018
Sent by: Certified Mail
Peter Piper Address
Dear Mr. Peter Piper:
RE: Our Agreement – Delivery of 300 cases of grade-A picked pickled peppers by November 10, 2018 for $5,200
NOTICE OF INTENT TO SUE
The body of the letter begins here with an introduction.
The Demand Letter’s Content
Once the formality of the opening is established, the introduction is where you summarize the agreement, how it was breached and how you want to resolve it. Remember, this letter can be used against you, so it’s critical you use the exact facts only. If you’re not 100 percent confident on dates, then say “on or about (date)” so your dates cannot be refuted; any inconsistencies can hurt your claims.
After the introduction comes the body of the letter. Here, outline key dates for any pertinent exchanges that have occurred between both parties, such as phone calls, emails, meetings or any other transactions. Keep it brief and use only important exchanges, to avoid errors or disputable points. Show you have been reasonable in your patience or attempts at resolution until now, but keep emotions out of it. This is strictly business; your emotions have no play in this letter or in court.
Next, be specific in your demands. “I will accept 50 cases of the grade-a picked pickled peppers, but the remaining 250 were for a holiday promotion, and I insist on returning and receiving a refund for them as they were delivered too late for use in our holiday gift baskets.”
Then, assign a deadline. “If the 250 cases have not been picked up from my business, Miss Tuffet’s Gifts, and a refund issued by January 31, 2019, I will commence an action in Grimm's Valley Law Courts without further notice to you.”
Close out with your name, business name, address and contact information, including your cellphone number and email address.
Maybe the Letter Works
There are no guarantees with a demand letter, but some experts say they can be effective in as many as one-third of attempts. If it spares you the hassle of going to court, it’s worth a shot. But remember, this is a legal document admissible in court. Be professional, be brief, be factual. State your terms clearly but be reasonable, too. Don’t use short durations to stoke the fires, use 30 days or longer so the other party has has the time to comply. If the party initiates a dialog with you, consider calling off the dogs until you’re sure it’s not working out. If that means the deadline passes, that’s another “reasonable” point in your favor at court.
- Exhaust every possible remedy before sending an intent-to-sue letter.
- It may be a crime in some states to send an intent-to-sue letter if you do not intend to follow through on the legal threat.
Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.