What Documents Do You Need to Keep When A Lawsuit is Filed?

by: Porter Scott Attorneys

If a former employee of your company filed a lawsuit against the company, would you know what to look for and how to look for documents that might be relevant to the case so you can provide them to your attorney? If the employee’s attorney sent you a letter requesting you to preserve documents, would you know where to start?

Many businesses can benefit from evaluating their company’s data retention policies and practices.  This can help you determine what types of information you have access to and should protect if you have notice that a lawsuit may be or has been filed.  For example, surveillance footage may need to be saved before it is cycled over, or auto-delete features on email programs may need to be modified to ensure that important information is retained.

In addition to documents such as emails, personnel records, accident reports, and investigation reports, to name a few, there are also other materials that are relevant to the defense of a claim that should be gathered and preserved.  These include text messages, voicemails, and video footage. Social media sites such as Facebook often contain personal posts that can be relevant to a case. This information can be preserved through the use of your IT staff or an IT expert.

A company-wide document retention policy can alleviate problems at the litigation stage. The policy should have both a schedule identifying the retention period and a means for administering the policy. Retention periods vary depending on the categories and types of documents.  Minimum retention periods are sometimes set forth by law. For instance, personnel records must be kept for three years after termination of the person’s employment. You may choose to hold on to certain documents for longer periods if they serve an important business purpose. Generally, it is a good idea to keep documents for the length of the statute of limitations of any potential claims. The policy should identify the documents to be retained and set forth the method for removing outdated documents.

During a lawsuit, the attorney for the plaintiff will typically ask where the defendant stores documents, how they are maintained, and how they are preserved.  If your company has a document retention plan in place and follows it, then you may be able to avoid some awkward questions about where certain documents are once litigation commences.  Of course, once you have notice of a potential claim, you should make every effort to preserve relevant documents and should not destroy any relevant documents even if your document retention policy would otherwise allow you to do so.

Our attorneys are available to assist you with document retention strategies, and can provide information on applicable limitation periods for your business so that you are well equipped to defend a lawsuit if one is brought.