Civil Demand Letters
Civil Demand Letters are a demand for compensation through the civil (as opposed to ‘criminal’) court system. Most commonly, businesses receive what are called “93A Demand Letters” from consumers, those allegedly caught shoplifting receive “Civil Demand Letters” for ‘compensation’, and insurance companies receive “Settlement Demand Letters” from injured parties. If you have received a Demand Letter, do not ignore it. There are often statutory deadlines to respond in writing, and the failure to do so can inhibit the rights, remedies, defenses and recourse you may otherwise have.
Types of Civil Demand Letters:
Massachusetts Gen. Laws, Ch. 93A
The ’93A Demand Letter’
This is commonly referred to as a 93A Demand Letter. In certain circumstances involving unfair and deceptive business practices, this statute requires a claimant to send a written demand letter with specific language to the offending party.
Pursuant to the statute, the recipient has 30 days to respond to the 93A Demand Letter or to make a reasonable offer of settlement. If the recipient does not respond to the 93A Demand Letter or offers no settlement or an unreasonable settlement, then the claimant may be able to recover double (2X) or treble (3X) the amount of damages the claimant suffered plus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
For example, if a business engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices in its dealings with you and you suffered damages of $10,000, you could recover $20,000 or even $30,000 dollars plus the money you spend on an attorney, filing fees, deposition fees and other court-related costs.
Business Owner Perspective:
If you are a business or are otherwise engaged in ‘commerce’ and you receive a letter that makes reference to M.G.L. (or G.L.) ch.93A then the letter is very likely a ‘93A Demand Letter’.
You should immediately contact a Business Lawyer at The Jacobs Law.
First, the deadline to respond to a 93A Demand Letter is only thirty (30) days and your attorney will need time to discuss the background facts with you, investigate the claimant and the allegations, and draft a response (which should always be sent by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested).
Second, sending a response to a 93A Demand Letter and making a reasonable offer of settlement can limit the judgment that could be awarded to the claimant if the claimant refuses to accept your offer.
Third, the failure to respond to a 93A Demand Letter can be used to support a claimant’s allegations that the business engaged in unfair and deceptive practices. Generally speaking, the money you spend on a Business Lawyer at The Jacobs Law to advise you and your business on responding to a 93A Demand Letter could save you big money in the long run – ‘an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure’
MGL ch. 93A Claimant’s Perspective:
If you are a consumer that has suffered a financial injury (or related loss) as a result of the unfair and deceptive practices of a business or a person/entity engaged in ‘commerce’ then you should almost always send that business a 93A Demand Letter prior to filing suit. At the very least, it will give you and the business an opportunity to resolve the issue without incurring attorney’s fees.
As with a response to a 93A Demand Letter, the Demand Letter itself should always be sent to the offending party by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested (despite recent case law which confirmed this is not a requirement by the statute, in practice it allows the sender to pin point the exact date the 93A Demand Letter was received and the 30 day clock begins to tick).
If you fail to send a 93A Demand Letter to the offending party prior to filing the lawsuit you may be barred from doing so later. If you are close to the statute of limitations to file suit, you may file the complaint with the court, refrain from serving it for 30 days while you send out the Demand Letter, amend the Complaint to add the 93A claim, and then serve it. Since the 93A Demand Letter is a prerequisite for claims pursuant to the statute, the failure to send the 93A Demand Letter will leave you unable to benefit from the statutory penalties that M.G.L. ch.93A imposes on businesses for unfair and deceptive business practices: double (2X) or treble (3X) damages plus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
If you send the 93A Demand Letter and the recipient fails to respond within thirty (30) days, that failure can be used to support your claim against the recipient for unfair and deceptive practices. However, if the recipient responds and makes a reasonable offer of settlement, then you should seriously consider it. There are significant potential pitfalls for the claimant if a reasonable offer of settlement is rejected and the claimant proceeds to litigation.
Hybrid 93A/176D Demand Letter
Another type of Civil Demand Letter you may have heard about is a 93A/176D Demand Letter.
A 93A/176D Demand Letter is essentially a “93A Demand Letter” that is sent to an insurance company. M.G.L. ch.176D combined with M.G.L. 93A prohibits unfair and deceptive insurance settlement practices, and establishes penalties of double (2X) or treble (3X) an injured party’s base damages plus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
It is most often used when an insurance company refuses to make a reasonable offer of settlement when liability for an injury is clear or fails to properly investigate a claim prior to denying it. Many attorneys send 93A/176D Civil Demand Letters to insurance companies related to personal injury claims and property damage claims.
A Shoplifting Related Civil Demand Letter:
These types of Civil Demand Letters have received a lot of attention on websites like Avvo.com and other complaint-style sites.
These are Demand Letters pursuant to M.G.L. ch.231 section 85 ½. This statute provides that a merchant is entitled to recover between $50 and $500 dollars plus the actual damages incurred for larceny or attempted larceny. Major retailers have engaged law firms from around the country to send these Civil Demand Letters to people caught shoplifting or even suspected of shoplifting.
The fact that people who are merely suspected of shoplifting receive these letters raises serious issues as to the appropriateness of the Civil Demand Letter in such circumstances. Further, in responding to questions about these shoplifting-related Civil Demand Letters on Avvo.com, many attorneys suggest not sending any money at all. Although I do not endorse that advice, the facts and circumstances of each incident should be reviewed before deciding how to respond to a shoplifting-related Civil Demand Letter.
Other Civil Demand Letters:
Civil Demand Letters may be sent for a variety of other claims for compensation through the civil court system. For example, many attorneys send Civil Demand Letters to tortfeasors (those who committed a civil tort, like negligence) for personal injury claims and property damage claims.
If You or Your Business Receive a Civil Demand Letter, Contact The Jacobs Law, LLC Immediately.
If you are a merchant / business and have received a 93A Demand Letter or any other type of Civil Demand Letter you should Contact a Business Law & Litigation Attorney at The Jacobs Law LLC immediately. You have a very limited time to respond (30 days pursuant to M.G.L. ch.93A) and the failure to timely respond can have serious negative consequences. Hiring one of our Business Lawyers to review the 93A Demand Letter could save you money in the end.
If you are business (yor consumer) with a claim against another business for unfair and deceptive business practice, you too should Contact The Jacobs Law LLC as soon as you discover the unfair and deceptive business practice. There are deadlines (Statute of Limitations) by which you can make a claim under M.G.L. ch.93A. Further, if you file a lawsuit without sending a 93A Demand Letter to the offending party you could be forever barred from doing so, and will likely be ineligible for the double (2X) or treble (3X) damage plus attorney’s fees and costs.