Deleting Emails May Muddy Legals Waters

Spoliation and Deleting EmailsPurging emails has been the topic of conversation amongst political pundits over the past few weeks, but how, if at all, can cleansing emails create legal problems for your business?

One example… the Court system.

In short, Iowa law generally prohibits individuals and businesses from destroying evidence, such as emails, that would be relevant to an existing case or case that is reasonably anticipated. Importantly, this long-standing principle applies whether the matter is a criminal or civil case.

Our Iowa Supreme Court has recognized that “[i]t is a well established legal principle that the intentional destruction of or the failure to produce documents or physical evidence relevant to the proof of an issue in a legal proceeding supports an inference [that a jury may be instructed about] that the evidence would have been unfavorable to the party responsible for its destruction or nonproduction.”  Phillips v. Covenant Clinic, 625 N.W.2d 714, 718 (Iowa 2001).

Importantly, the inference is regarded “as an admission by conduct of the weakness of the party’s case,” and is based upon “the common sense observation that a party who destroys a document with knowledge that it is relevant to litigation is likely to have been threatened by the document.”  Id.  

Based upon the forgoing, when litigation is filed or even reasonably anticipated, parties are often advised they should institute what is commonly referred to as a “litigation hold,” and preserve relevant evidence, including emails.

Consequently, before your business begins cleansing emails and shredding documents, you may want to think twice and consider whether such cleansing is truly beneficial or whether its the first step in muddying legal waters.

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About Matthew McKinney

Attorney focused on civil and commercial litigation.
This entry was posted in Litigation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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