Spoliation is when a party destroys or alters evidence that he was obligated to preserve.  In the United States, a party is usually obligated to preserve evidence if he can reasonably anticipate that there will be a civil litigation.  If a party spoliates evidence, even accidentally, a judge might impose sanctions  – – and the sanctions can be serious.

 It is especially important for companies to have an appropriate policy regarding the preservation and destruction of documents to avoid getting into trouble.  In some instances there might be a relevant statute regarding the preservation of documents.  Lawyers in the US will work with corporate clients to prevent spoliation both before and after a litigation arises.  

For example, companies usually keep their emails on their computer servers for a certain period of time.  But for how long?  The company should consult with its attorney regarding how long emails will be preserved and whether certain emails should be retained for a longer period of time.  If there is a civil litigation and the company destroyed emails that the company should have preserved, a judge might impose penalties.

Below is a video on spoliation.