Don’t Break the Law – Save Your Emails

0 Comments Posted by Vet Network in Business Info, Legal on Friday, August 9th, 2013.

Are You Breaking the Law By Not Saving Client Emails?

It’s a litigious society in which we live and do business today. Veterinary practice owners know that there are risks of being sued for serious and sometimes frivolous reasons. If you or your veterinary hospital is in the midst of a lawsuit, this is not the time to start deleting emails. In fact, this may be a criminal offense. What are your legal obligations in regard to archiving emails to and from clients?

This question has to do with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), which define best practices for large and small businesses that might be involved in civil lawsuits. Among other businesses, this includes veterinary practices. In 2006, the FRCP was amended to include email and instant messages. This change was necessary since 90% or more of business communication was being handled through electronic messaging methods.

Most organizations and large companies know that if a situation arises that may have the potential for litigation; they must preserve all possible evidence. This obligation is called “litigation hold.” If an employee deletes a relevant email and there is no central copy, the company could receive sanctions for destroying evidence. The courts have not been kind to businesses that could not retrieve information due to insufficient IT resources.

Legal Obligations for Veterinarians and veterinary hospitals

Have a Clearly Written Hospital Policy and Follow It

The best way to protect you and your veterinary hospital is to have a written policy on archiving emails and to be sure each employee adheres to it. If you have a policy to save emails for 90 days, they are discoverable. In other words, if your veterinary practice is involved in a lawsuit, the other party’s attorney has a right to see (to “discover”) the emails that are relevant to their claim. If your hospital policy states that older emails are not to be archived, you will not be penalized for deleting them after 90 days as a matter of course.

Some companies, such as financial companies involved in stock trades or pension plans, are required by the Securities and Exchange Commission to save emails for a predetermined number of years. That is not the case with a veterinary practice. Unless you are involved in a lawsuit, or have reasonable expectation that a suit is coming, you are in compliance with the FRCP as long as you are following your own published policy. Remember that emails are just as likely to support your side of the story as to assign blame to your practice.

Don’t Pretend That You Don’t Know a Lawsuit May Be On the Way

You can usually tell if a lawsuit is on the way. If there is an incident resulting in personal injury, the death of a pet, or an angry comment that has been made by a client (“I’ll see YOU in COURT!”), you must immediately institute a litigation hold. All your veterinary hospital employees should know ahead of time exactly what that means, so be sure to add it to your hospital’s written policy or your veterinary hospital handbook.

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