California Expert WitnessThe Experts Expert
The Expert’s Expert
When Paul Kayfetz became an inactive attorney
he became a very active expert witness.
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 other demonstrators.
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)