In California, you’re typically required to send a small claims demand letter to the defendant before filing a small claims case. It’s a good idea because once you send a formal demand letter typed up on paper, mailed to them by certified mail, it shows that you’re serious and often times can trigger a defendant to make a payment.
Why else send the demand letter?
At a minimum, the small claims demand letter can open up a dialogue between you and the defendant and help you reach some sort of settlement because you’re going to lay out your case in the demand letter and they’ll see where you’re coming from. Sometimes a settlement is better than a tired cranky small claims commissioner deciding your case in 5 minutes. The California court’s website has a form that helps you fill out a demand letter. http://www.courts.ca.gov/11145.htm I will also email you a sample if you request one.
Tips for creating a small claims demand letter.
- Include the date.
- Send the letter by certified mail or some mailing method where you can confirm that the mail was sent and received (don’t send it by email or fax, but if you are going to do that, send it also my certified mail).
- Include the defendant’s full name and address at the top.
- Including a “re:” line, which gives the subject for the letter: “Demand for payment prior to filing a small claims action.”
- In the letter, the first line, tell them exactly what you want. You’re writing this letter because the defendant owes you money and you want payment in 10 days.
- Tell them exactly the amount of money you want. (“$5,000”)
- Next, tell them exactly when you want payment. (“1 month”)
- Next, put in the letter that this is the last chance to settle prior to you filing a small claims action.
- Explain in the letter that once you go to small claims, you’re going to get a judgment which can affect their credit and will earn interest.
- Next, put in the letter exactly how you want payment. By check or cashier’s check, mailed to an address.
- Next, put your phone number and email address so they can contact you back. Don’t just give a physical address because it’s slow.
- Also put in the letter that you plan to use the letter as evidence that you’ve attempted to resolve this matter with them. Take the demand letter with you to small claims court and show it to the judge.
Here is a sample you can copy and paste.
[Current Date: ex. July 4, 1776]
VIA CERTIFIED MAIL and US MAIL
DEFENDANT CITY AND STATE
Re: Date of Auto Crash: October 31, 1999
Dear Mr./Mrs. Defendant:
The purpose of this letter is to notify you that I will be filing a lawsuit against you for damages resulting from the car crash that occurred on October 31, 1999. You were the owner of DEFENDANT VEHICLE involved in the crash and liable for damages caused by the driver who failed to provide a license or proof insurance. [Insert applicable reason for lawsuit here.]
Facts of Incident: On DATE, at TIME., I was traveling on LOCATION. Your vehicle was traveling on LOCATION in the other direction and made an unsafe left turn hitting my car. Attached as Exhibit 1 are photographs from the scene of the incident. Exhibit 2 is proof of your ownership of the vehicle.
Demand: Please pay MONEY AMOUNT, the cost to repair my vehicle, within thirty days of this letter. Exhibit 3 is the repair estimate for my vehicle. If I do not hear from you on or before that date, I will file a lawsuit against you. If a judgment is obtained against you, it will negatively affect your ability to get credit. You will be ordered to pay court costs and interest on the judgment.
If you decide to ignore this demand, I will pursue all legal remedies without further notice to you. This letter serves as evidence that I have attempted to resolve this matter informally.
Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
YOUR CONTACT INFO / A WAY FOR THE DEFENDANT TO CONTACT YOU
Enclosures as Stated