A Legal Lesson for Businesses is Hidden in Tom Brady Case
An appellate court has upheld the suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. You may be wondering why this matters to you, unless you’re also an NFL quarterback. But hidden in this entire case is an important lesson to business owners.
The Brady Case
You may recall Brady was suspended by the NFL over allegations that he deflated footballs before an NFL playoff game. But because it’s less of a flashy news story, it’s been under-reported that Brady was also accused of destroying text messages and other information on his phone about the incident.
Brady asserts that he regularly deletes such information from his phone. The NFL contends the deletion was a purposeful attempt to destroy incriminating evidence. But you, as a business owner, should now see the importance of preserving anything that could be construed as evidence when there could be a pending claim against you.
Spoliation of Evidence
The legal doctrine called spoliation of evidence requires anybody who has evidence tending to support or refute a legal claim, to preserve that evidence.
This may seem like common sense. But every day we delete emails or text messages, throw away files or paperwork, or record over surveillance tapes. Many of these functions are automatic or automated. But if there was a legal claim against your business, destroying any of these items can have devastating consequences.
If there is a lawsuit against your business, and you have destroyed evidence—even innocently—the court can instruct a jury to assume the evidence, if it existed, would go against you.
So, for example, if someone sells you a product that didn’t meet a contracted-for standard, but you threw the product (which most certainly would be evidence in court) out, the judge and jury will assume that the product met the contractual conditions.
You don’t have a legal obligation to save every document and video ever made, just in case a lawsuit arises. The obligation only arises when there is any chance or suspicion of a lawsuit, or that the item may be evidence.
Still, you should preserve documents and videos for a reasonable amount of time, and today, with the cost of electronic storage being cheap, there is almost no excuse for not being able to preserve information.
You should try to only do business through mediums that can be preserved. Emails can be stored on a server for an unlimited amount of time, but text messages can disappear (or not be readily accessible). Any item or condition that could fade or be destroyed, should at least be photographed. You should try to avoid deleting emails, but instead, store them locally or on the cloud. Surveillance systems that overwrite after a set period of time should preferably be set to store, and not delete, old information (or develop a system to manually back up videos).
Avoid legal problems for your business by taking legal precautions beforehand. Contact Tampa business, asset and probate attorney David Toback to discuss protecting your business in all situations.