The Court of Appeals of Washington recently upheld a $17M judgement, including $6M in punitive damages, resulting from repeated failures to produce relevant documents (see http://law.justia.com/cases/washington/court-of-appeals-division-i/2015/70756-6.html).  Defendant’s counsel had claimed that many of the documents were not produced due to the application of the firm’s records management policy.  At trial, Judge Benton examined the policy and found that it was “vague in many ways. . . . I’m not satisfied, looking at the exhibits provided today, that some of the documents requested by the plaintiff couldn’t have been produced.”

Avco Corp. had other failures to explain, but their inability to put a clear information management policy before the court played a big role in the sanctions.

Canadians should take notice of decisions like this.  Much as the early e-discovery cases were south of the border, Canadian courts eventually followed suit.  The same is bound to happen in the information governance space.  There will be increasing scrutiny of how firms govern their information environments.   The consequences can be serious. If your policies are vague, incomplete, outdated, or honoured only in the breach, your organization is at risk.   Now is a good time to retire your organization’s old record management policies, and introduce new “Information Governance Strategies”.  Rather than standalone policies that are filed and forgotten, good IG results in sustainable integrated policies and practices that are easy to understand (even by a Court).  Organizations that don’t have IG on their radar have one more reason to add it.

Crews v. Avco Corp., No. 70756-6-I, 2015 WL 1541179 (Wash. Ct. App.  Apr. 6, 2015)