If Your Legal Department Does Not Play Nicely With Others

When a state Supreme Court opinion starts with the sentence “trial courts need not tolerate deliberate and willful discovery abuse”, it is easy to guess that lawyers have not been behaving nicely.

The case Magana vs. Hyundai Motor America was issued approximately ten days ago by the Supreme Court of Washington. The case involved a 1996 Hyundai Accent that veered off the road, hit several trees, spun violently and ejected the Plaintiff through the rear window of the vehicle. He landed almost 100 feet away from the vehicle and his injuries caused him to be a paraplegic.

Needless to say, litigation was filed and Hyundai was sued. Hyundai was accused, during the course of litigation of discovery abuses including, but not limited to, falsely responding to discovery requests, spoliation of evidence and substantially impairing the plaintiff’s ability to prepare for trial.

For more detailed breakdown of the accusations, here’s the opinion.

Of particular note, the Supreme Court of Washington took Hyundai’s legal department to task for its failure to respond to the discovery requests in good faith, for substantially impairing the Plaintiff’s ability to prepare for trial by not disclosing discovery, and for spoliation of evidence.

The real crux here is the fact that Hyundai did not turn over all the documents in its possession. Rather, a search of documents that was conducted was confined to those records that were in the legal department of Hyundai. The legal department made no effort to search beyond our immediate four walls and, as a result, failed to turn over documentation in the company’s possession which could have helped the Plaintiff prepare for Trial.

Hyundai was sanction $8,000,000 plus attorneys fees.

Is there a lesson to be learned by this? I would certainly think so. As a company, every company should have a policy and/or procedure for how it handles discovery procedures. The failure to recognize the importance of discovery – and, in particular, the importance of responding to discovery – can result in very serious harm.