One of the most crucial steps in preparing for a small claims court case is the preparation and delivery of a demand letter. Numerous jurisdictions require a plaintiff to send a demand letter to the defendant as a prerequisite to filing a claim. Essentially, a demand letter asks the defendant for the same award that you intend to seek from a judge in small claims court. Although many jurisdictions allow plaintiffs to make a verbal demand, it is a good idea to also send a written demand. This precludes a defendant from denying that he or she received a demand, or alleging that the demand was for a lower amount of money.
The core of a demand letter states the nature of your dispute and describes how you would like the court to rule. When preparing a demand letter, make sure to prepare and organize your argument. Any documents you can include that specify dates, amounts, or transactions may be very useful to bolstering your argument.
What to Include in a Demand Letter
After you have gathered the necessary information, you are ready to start writing. You should begin the demand letter by providing a brief overview of what happened, starting at the beginning and moving through the facts chronologically. Next, explain to the court why you have been unable to reach an agreement with the other party involved. If you have proposed a number of tentative agreements that the other party did not accept, include the terms of those offers and the other party’s responses. For example, if the dispute involves an amount of money that the other party owes you, include information about the original transaction giving rise to the debt, your attempts to collect the debt, and whether you are willing to accept installment payments or a lower sum in satisfaction of the debt. Finally, since the ultimate recipient of the demand letter is the other party, be sure to let them know that you intend to file a claim in small claims court if they fail to satisfy the demand. In some instances, it may be good to provide a specific date that you intend to file, and to provide the other party with a certain number of days to respond to your demand letter.
It is important to include the necessary facts while keeping the demand letter at a reasonable length. It may be easy to omit or overlook certain facts that are well known to you and the other party, but keep in mind that a court clerk or judge may end up reading the letter and use it to learn about the case. Try not to repeat the same thing multiple times. Instead, find the clearest way to state your case, and present it in a simple and streamlined manner. Although a court is not expecting you to have the expertise and acumen of an attorney, they do expect you to use your most professional tone. It is important to proofread the document and make sure that it is free of any spelling or grammar errors. You may want to consider asking a trusted colleague or friend to review the letter and provide their critical opinion.
Additionally, no matter how emotionally provoking or frustrating the dispute may be, refrain from using any derogatory language or making unseemly comments about the other party. It is usually best to enlist a professional and polite tone throughout your letter. If you present the facts in an appropriate way, the court will draw inferences about the events and the other party’s liability. Keep in mind that documents filed with a court are typically public record, and the things you say in the demand letter will be available for other individuals to access and read.
Check Local Rules on Demand Letters
Each state employs different practices and procedures for filing a demand letter with small claims court. Before preparing and delivering your demand letter, check your court’s local rules to ensure that you are complying with all the appropriate procedures. Failure to comply may result in delays with the processing of your claim, or require you to prepare an amended demand letter and present it to the other party.