Despite new regulations requiring ready access to electronically stored business documents during a lawsuit, many executives say data volumes are simply becoming unmanageable, according to Deloitte.

In a survey of 520 executives in the financial and technology industries, nearly a fifth said they aren't ready for handle complex lawsuit discovery requests, the New York-based financial firm reported. Another 12 percent said they had no document retention policies in place with their IT departments.

"As the volume of data continues to amass -- doubling in size every 18 to 24 months -- strategic steps should be taken so that electronic discovery can be handled correctly," Bruce Hartley, a director of analytic and forensic technology at Deloitte, said in a statement.

Hartley said poorly handled discovery cases can lead to penalties, including hefty fines or even jail time.

The biggest concern among executives surveyed was the cost of sifting through piles of data, on top of lost productivity and the risk of penalties.

In 2006, an amendment to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure made it mandatory for companies to be able to quickly provide electronically stored data, including e-mail and instant messenger exchanges, in the event of a lawsuit.