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Part II, Communicating with Unpleasantness: Demand Letters

Demand letter.
Demand letter.

Demand letters are usually the start of unpleasant communications. Not the end.

What are Demand Letters for?

Usually, it is a demand on the other party take some corrective action or to stop doing something. It could be demanding payment because it is late. It could be demanding interest on top of the principal due to the lateness of the payment. Other times, if you are the customer and the service provider’s job remains undone, then you want specific performance. You are asking them to finish the job.

What about Cease and Desist Letters?

These letters are demanding that the other party stop doing something, such as Intellectual Property matters. Specifically, there is an infringing action that going on or about to happen and the owner of the IP wants the infringer informed of their rights. It could be an infringer’s use of an unauthorized copy of an image on their website and social media.

Sometimes the government uses cease and desist letters as a part of their enforcement powers. Agencies will indicate to the person that they are doing some type of illegal activity that should stop immediately. If not, and they ignore the notice of the letter, then they could face penalties, fines, or being charged with a crime.

Does it Need to be Drafted by an Attorney?

No. Attorneys don’t always draft them, but having them may help. You should consider the nature and context of the dispute. For instance, demanding a customer pay you $200.00 for kitchen supplies because the are past the due date might not be a good use of an attorney. However, if your client is not paying you $200,000.00 in consulting and construction fees and you have an obligation to continue working on the project, then are a lot of factors to take into consideration when making the demand.

Insurance Claims

Trejur will likely provide posts in the future that are more in-depth on this topic. However, for the discussion purposes of this post just know that for personal injury claims, the injured person usually starts the process by submitting a demand letter to the insurance companies. Further consider that negotiating and settling insurance claims may be aided by a lawyer’s counsel. The reason is there are certain structures and contents that go with the initial demand letter.

Examples include: describing the accident, medical treatments to treat the injured, and accompanying evidence and supplemental documents, such as police reports and medical bills. The initial demand letter is probably just the start; insurance companies tend to lowball their initial offer. A personal injury attorney’s knowledge and experience may assist in getting a higher settlement when communicating to the insurance companies.

What Goes into Demand Letters?

It depends. Every situation is unique. This includes drafting a demand letter for clients. Sometimes, short and sweet is perfect because the facts are simple, and the law is easy to understand. Other times, lengthy explanations are necessary. Such as when the legal rights and concepts are abstract. These include citing to the actual law, explaining case law, and providing some evidence to show the other side there is a provable case. At a minimum, a demand letter usually explains the situation, a view of the law that is favorable to the demanding party, and the demands. Money and/or taking an action (or stopping one) and deadlines to respond or comply.  Finally, consider lawyers communicate to other attorneys via these demand letters as well as laypeople, so they legal ethics applies.

I will say from an attorney’s perspective we, just as much as laypeople, enjoy creative demand letters. Demand letters don’t always have to be mean in tone. “Nastygrams” are not always effective. Consider many content providers realize that fans who are business owners flatter them through creative endeavors, but these actions may infringe on their copyright, trademark, and trade dress rights.

However, sometimes you do get a mean and unreasonable demand letter. The question then becomes how do you respond? Ridiculous cease and desist letters sometimes also open themselves to cheeky responses like this one.

Other than the Creative Way, How Should I Respond to One?

The opportunity to dare the writer of the demand letter to start a lawsuit by offering lollipops to the process server is not a frequent one. However, a lot of people feel that ignoring a demand letter is a reasonable response. It might not be, as sometimes silence may be viewed as an admission. The demanding party may just send another letter.

A strongly worded response letter may be able to dissuade the other side. Attorneys frequently engage in letter writing contests back-and-forth without even filing a claim because litigation can increase the costs dramatically. The hope is there is a resolution at some point, but a demand letter is not usually the end of the legal process. It starts a communication process.  So how you choose to respond sometimes requires a careful analysis of all factors:

  • What are the demands? What does it cost to comply with the demands?
  • Do you have any rights or claims?
  • What are the facts?  Are they verifiable?
  • How much would it cost to litigate? Take it through trial?
  • What are you willing to settle for?

Analyzing these factors sometimes helps clients make valuation decisions, especially for business owners. Sometimes it might be worth it to settle, other times not. The key is to understand the contents of the demand letter, and then the circumstances that surround it. It is the start of a communication process, not the end.

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in this post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in their relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.