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Proving a Product Caused Your Injury in Colorado

Preserving the evidence can be crucial to holding manufacturers responsible

Proving a product caused an injury is no easy task. It takes time, scientific and medical expertise, and well-documented evidence.

“It depends on the nature of the injury, too. An immediate physical injury is different from something that manifests itself [over time] and there’s not a lot of science always readily available to prove A causes B,” says Joseph Riegerix, a product liability attorney in Denver. “But there are key things that make a big difference.”

Key Evidence, Including the Defective Product

No. 1 on that list is something injury attorneys call preservation. “Don’t change or lose any evidence—first and foremost, the product itself,” says Sean Dormer, of Dormer Harpring in Denver. “Don’t throw any parts of it away—collect all of them, and if it broke, take photos if you can.”

In a recent case, Dormer had a client with a pressure cooker that exploded. “In that situation, it’s natural for people to maybe want to just start cleaning up the destroyed kitchen with food all over it, but it’s really important to get photos before you do that,” he says. “For a lot of clients, unfortunately, preservation is kind of like hindsight. A lack of preservation doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the case, you should still talk to a lawyer regardless. But ideally, don’t clean things up; don’t repair things; keep things in a sealed environment if you can.”

The same goes for large products, such as a motor vehicle. Even if a defect causes a crash that leads to the car being totaled, Dormer has secured storage facilities to keep the vehicle in question as evidence rather than shipping it off to the junkyard right away.

Also valuable, yet often discarded, are the various forms of documentation that come with a product. “Receipts, proofs of purchase, even packaging,” Dormer says. “Sometimes you may think packaging and receipts don’t really matter, but if you look closely, it may tell you where the product came from and maybe how it got there. That can be very important.”

Riegerix agrees. “Say they purchased a widget that contained a defect when it was produced during this one month in 1997,” he says. “How do you prove that the widget that your client used was made during that time? A UPC number? People don’t really take pictures of their things like that. People don’t think about the fact that just taking pictures of what’s happening to you can be great evidence.”

When Riegerix was involved in an injury case, his client still had old, empty containers of weed killer in their garage. “That was huge because, one, you could prove they actually used it and weren’t just making it up. Two, they used different formulations that had different concentrations of glyphosate, the key ingredient that caused cancer,” he says.

Other evidentiary avenues Riegerix has explored include personal journals and blogs, credit card receipts, and witnesses to testify that the plaintiff used a specific product. “Sometimes you have to dig deep,” he says.

Make Your Injury Claim Quickly

The other thing that’s crucial in these cases, the attorneys agree, is acting fast.

“It depends on the nature of the injury,” Riegerix says, citing exceptions such as injuries involving automobiles and products manufactured more than a decade ago, “but Colorado has short and strict statutes of limitations.”

The clock to make a legal claim typically starts the moment your injury occurs. Of course, there are certain times when you may not know you’ve been injured—say, when a product is shown to cause cancer. “Generally if it’s something chemical in nature that affects you slowly, years down the road, you get the date of when you knew or reasonably should have known that the product caused your injury,” Riegerix says.

In any event, the burden is on you to notify the company and/or a regulatory agency as soon as possible. This is where an injury attorney can come in handy. Even if you think your incident is outside the scope of a legal claim, it doesn’t hurt to ask—perhaps multiple times.

“I always suggest getting a second opinion, because there’s always the possibility of a creative legal theory,” Dormer says. “Our job is to try to think creatively, not just technically. Sometimes really good theories and arguments are not necessarily going to come to everybody, even experienced lawyers. So ask not just once, but ask a couple of different sources before you give up your right to make a claim.”

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