In a recent case, the Fairfax County Circuit Court ordered the defendant to pay over $140,000 in costs and attorneys’ fees after deleting evidence. There, a dentist sued a fellow dentist for defamation and the defendant deleted digital data related to the defamation. The court held that the defendant engaged in “reckless” spoilation of evidence and required the defendant to pay fees. This case highlights the important of preserving potential evidence when litigation matters arrive and the potential consequences of violating requirements to retain evidence.
In this case, a dentist, Richard Grundy, worked for Brown Dental Practice and reported safety lapses at the business to regulatory bodies. After reporting the lapses, a fellow dentist and owner of the practice, Charles Brown, fired him and sent a disparaging letter to clients. The letter to clients claimed Grundy failed to follow appropriate guidelines and was being looked into by the board of dentistry. Grundy sued Brown for defamation. Although Brown received a letter instructing him to preserve records, he deleted data from hard drives.
The court held there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that the evidence was deleted “with intent to deprive” Grundy of use of the information despite knowing he had an obligation to preserve the information. The court found the conduct to be “reckless.” As a result, the court instructed the jury that they may presume the missing evidence was unfavorable to Brown and draw “whatever inference they want.” Ultimately, the court ordered Brown to pay $140,554.65 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
The key takeaway from this case is the importance of preserving evidence. Particularly after a legal issue has arisen and a request is made for evidence to be preserved, deleting that evidence can have serious consequences. As shown in this case, deleting evidence can result in a requirement to pay sizable fees and adverse inferences.
If you’re involved in a legal matter, General Counsel, P.C. attorneys can help you navigate the process. Call us today at 703-991-7973.