When a munitions
train at the Concord Naval Weapons Station ran over demonstrator Brian
Willson, severing his legs, the train crew claimed they didn't see him in
time to stop.
To determine just what the crew could see, Willson's counsel, Thomas
Steel of San Francisco, turned to attorney and accident reconstructionist
Paul Kayfetz. The Bolinas resident constructed a 2,000-pound, 12-foot-high
wooden structure, equipped it with measuring and recording devices, bolted
it atop a railroad handcart and ran it down the tracks at the weapons
station toward an assembled cast of demonstrators.
"When we arrived," Kayfetz laughs, "The U.S. attorney said the thing
looked like a siege tower and tried to deny us permission to put it on the
tracks. The federal magistrate, however, sided with us, since the whole
idea was to film from the crew's perspective."
The photographic perspective Kayfetz obtained that day showed not only
that the crew could have stopped the train in time, but also that Willson and the other demonstrators
were clearly visible from a distance 10 times greater than initially
claimed. The result: a $920,000 settlement shared among Willson and four
As an expert witness, Kayfetz is said to be "the best of the best." His
expertise has allowed him to leave his law practice although he
occasionally serves as a consultant to other attorneys. Kayfetz
specializes in "engineering photography," which combines photographic and
optical techniques with engineering measurement procedures. He developed
this rare expertise 30 years ago while still an undergraduate at the
University of California at Berkeley. Kayfetz practiced law for only eight
years after graduating from Boalt Hall in 1971.
Some cases may be better off without Kayfetz. In fact, in one-third of
the cases he's consulted on, he may never expose a roll of film. As
Kayfetz explains, "I'll tell the attorney, 'You don't want me working on
this case. Honest photography, done properly, is not going
to help you and may in fact hurt your client.'"
"In any field, of any expert, he [has the most impact] of anyone I
know," says Luke Ellis, a Berkeley plaintiffs attorney. In an Everett,
Washington case, Ellis says, a juror fainted after viewing a Kayfetz film
depicting what the victim could see in the 10 seconds before his
motorcycle collided head-on with a bus.
Often Kayfetz is given very little to work with. "I had a case where
the [accident] scene had been changed," says Ellis. "We had a few pictures
taken early on, but it seemed there was no way to tell what really
happened. We got a $6.5 million verdict, largely on the basis of Paul's
[skill] and credibility.
"He is almost unimpeachable," Ellis adds. "In a recent case in which
Paul was against us, we settled [rather than] face him in court."
--- BILL HAFFERTY
Reprinted from "California Lawyer"
(State Bar Journal)