man sitting at desk looking at emails on his laptop

Are Emails Admissible as Evidence in a Business Lawsuit?

Whether you are bringing or defending a business lawsuit, your litigation attorney has likely asked you to gather and organize relevant documents in preparation for your case.  This involves anyone or any location that might have helpful information to confirm your argument.  These days, the information in emails makes up quite a large portion of the discovery phase and offers great benefits as a result.  Unfortunately, not all emails are admissible as evidence in a business litigation case.

Determining Admissibility of Electronic Evidence

A business lawyer should help you determine which electronic communications are admissible and which are not, but we’ve described two main considerations here to get you started:

Message Must Be Authentic

It may be obvious to you that a specific email or text is the real deal and came from the source you claim.  However, it’s not overly difficult for someone with the right skillset to manipulate, fake, or corrupt digital data.  For this reason;

  • Your business litigation attorney must establish authenticity first and foremost.
  • A litigator may gain authentication by deposing the sender or recipient of the email.
  • When it comes to business litigation, company emails are normally considered self-authenticating when they:
    •  contain official corporate identifiers, and
    • are confirmed by redundant records.

Content Must Be Reliable

Even if you can prove that the communication you received is authentic, that doesn’t necessarily mean that its contents are helpful to your business lawsuit.  The email in question could say the company is in breach of contract, but simply stating this, doesn’t make it true.  This is considered hearsay, whether spoken, emailed, or texted.  Varying degrees of admissible evidence vs. hearsay could stem from a multi-email conversation depending on the nature of the content.  Consequently;

  • Your business attorney must prove the communication is an exception to the hearsay rule.
  • In a business lawsuit, communication could be considered reliable when presented as:
    • Business Record:
      • the communication was created by an employer or officer of that company.
      • the communication was created by an employee of that company as one of their proven and regular official duties.
    • Circumstantial Evidence:
      • the communication confirms an event or timeline
      • the communication confirms relevant actions were taken
    • Party Admission:
      • the party in question is the creator/sender
      • the opposing part offered it into evidence
      • the communication was sent by a proven coconspirator

Of course, there are a variety of circumstances that could cause even emails that fall under these categories to become inadmissible.  For example, if the sender was not in their right mind or if their motive is not expertly established, those emails will not hold up in court.  Additionally, each state has its own laws surrounding the admissibility of electronic evidence, so the strength of your case is not always straight forward.  Speak with a business attorney for an expert perspective and to determine which emails are admissible in your business lawsuit.

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